House committee hearing over gun bills draws hundreds

Hundreds of supporters from both sides of the gun debate filled the halls of the Capitol as lawmakers debated stricter gun laws at a House committee hearing.

DFL Rep. Dave Pinto introduced two gun bills a year ago, but neither got a hearing until he forced one Thursday in the wake of the Florida high school shooting. Both were heard by the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee.

Even after filling an overflow room, supporters from both sides still packed the hallway and waited out a two-hour hearing.

“It’s a slippery slope,” said Kelly Mingo of Ham Lake. “You start to take away rights and you take away one right and you take away another right.”

“I think there’s a lot of momentum,” said Kit Prendergast. “There’s a lot of people who want common sense and it’s time for the legislators to act.”

Associations for Minnesota county attorneys, police chiefs and pediatricians testified in support. Gun advocates say they believe the proposed laws are unconstitutional and ineffective.

“I would remind everyone that there is a community in Florida that wishes that any and all tools available to them would or could have been explored,” said Inver Grove Police Chief Paul Schnell.

“Universal background checks haven’t stopped any mass public shootings in this century,” said Professor Joseph Olson, a gun rights lobbyist.

Gun owners stand on both sides of the debate.

“Whether or not you agree with us, we do believe we represent the interests of every gun owner in the state,” said Rob Doar of the Minnesota Gun Owners Coalition.

“I’m telling you now as a gun owner that is untrue, so we need to stop staying things that are untrue,” said Rep. Jamie Becker Finn (DFL-Roseville).

The House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee voted down both bills on Thursday. Pinto said he is optimistic the bills won't remain "on the shelf."