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Minnesota gun bills advance, with Senate planning barrier

Gun control supporters and opponents packed a hallway at the Minnesota Capitol ahead of a hearing Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, on a pair of firearm bills. Dana Ferguson / FORUM NEWS SERVICE

ST. PAUL -- Two gun restriction measures likely will receive a full Minnesota House vote after years of some of the most heated legislative debate, but Senate Republicans stand in their way.

The House public safety committee voted 10-7 Thursday, Feb. 28, in favor of a bill, known as a “fed flag” measure, that would allow family members, law enforcement officers and government attorneys to seek court orders taking away guns from persons determined to be an “extreme risk” if living in a home with guns.

The “red flag” vote came a day after the committee took five hours of emotional testimony and questions on the two gun bills and advanced another gun control proposal. On that bill, committee members voted 9-7 along party lines to advance a measure that would require background checks at the point of purchase or sale of a firearm.

Few citizens attended the Thursday meeting after people on both sides had a chance to voice their positions a day earlier. That was when people, many with signs, packed Capitol hallways and a couple of meeting rooms to voice their views on gun issues that have produced nearly annual hot-button debates.

The committee votes advance the pair of bills, and other committees still need to consider them, but decisions will be made by legislative leaders.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, on Wednesday said the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, changed the national conversation around gun control debates and it increased the interest among Minnesotans in re-writing gun laws.

“It’s just a different moment in our history," Hortman said, "and I hope the Minnesota Senate is ready to acknowledge that."

Hortman said that if Republicans who control the Senate do not pass either of the gun bills, she will slip them into overall spending bills that must pass in order to fund state agencies.

The Senate leader said the gun provisions will not get into any bill in his chamber.

“She has every right do to that,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Thursday. “We would take the provisions out.”

The Thursday debate included a proposed amendment, which failed with Democrats opposing it, to expand items that could be removed from a dangerous person. They could range from a baseball bat to a car.

“The vast majority of suicides I have gone to have not been with firearms,” long-time law enforcement officer and Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, said.

Family members and friends of those who died in instances of gun violence, law enforcement officers and county attorneys testified in support of both bills, saying they would keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous individuals and offer a cooling off period for those who could harm themselves or others. Gun owners and gun rights advocates opposed the measures and said they'd unfairly impact law-abiding gun owners and deny them their due process rights.

Forum News Service reporter Dana Ferguson contributed to this story.