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Red-flag, universal background check gun bills could get Senate hearing, key leader says

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, said he would hold hearings for two gun control bills if the House of Representatives could pass them off the floor this year. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he'd be willing to hold hearings for a pair of gun control bills this year if they pass the House of Representatives.

The decision comes weeks after Gazelka and the chair of the Senate panel that would weigh the proposals said they would skip them this year.

House committees have passed the so-called “red flag” measure, which would allow family members, law enforcement officers and government attorneys to seek court orders taking away guns from persons determined to be a risk and another bill that would require background checks at the point of purchase or sale of a firearm.

And Democrats in the Minnesota House along with gun control advocacy groups earlier this month launched a public campaign to bring the bills up for a committee vote in the Republican-led Senate. And First Lady Gwen Walz at a gun control rally said she'd help flip Senate seats from Republican to Democrat in 2020 if that's what it took to pass the bills.

With some of the big work of session finished and in an effort to pull the gun bills from end-of-session budget debates, Gazelka on Wednesday, March 27, said he'd give the bills a hearing if the full House voted to advance them. But he noted that he would also bring up bills aimed at expanding gun rights at that hearing.

"I personally am not supportive of universal background checks and red flag laws, but if they are going to take two bills standalone and pass them, then we'll give them a hearing in the Senate," the Nisswa Republican told reporters.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told Forum News Service she was glad to hear Gazelka change his mind on the issue but wasn't holding her breath on the bills getting a fair hearing.

“I’m not really hanging on Paul Gazelka’s words,” Hortman said. “They’re entitled to have a show hearing if they want to but my hope would be that we could have a conversation that’s based on the merits of the issue and not trade barbs on something that’s so important to so many people."

Gazelka said the proposals likely wouldn't make it out of the Senate committee, which has a majority of GOP lawmakers. And he doubted the bills could pass on the Senate floor. Despite that, Gazelka said he felt the conversation would happen at some point and he felt it was better to have it in the Senate sooner rather than later.

"If the House is willing to move it, we are willing to move it a little bit sooner," Gazelka said.

Minnesota House leaders have said they're confident they can pass the bill off the floor. And Gov. Tim Walz has said he would sign the bills into law if they reach his desk.