Minnesota Democrats advance gun restrictions in late-night vote

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Update (Thursday, Feb. 27 at 3:06 p.m.): The House Public Safety Committee voted 10-7 Thursday to approve the "red flag" gun control bill, which allows police to seize guns from people deemed by a court to pose a threat.

House Democrats advanced their plan to require background checks on most gun sales and transfers in Minnesota during a late-night vote Wednesday.

The measure passed along party lines, 9-7, in the House Public Safety committee. Late Wednesday, the panel was also considering legislation allowing police to seize guns from people deemed by a judge to pose a threat to themselves or others.

The bills are top priorities for House Democrats, who took control of the chamber this year after winning several seats in suburban districts while advocating for tougher gun restrictions. The legislation faces opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“It’s just a different moment in our history, and I’m hoping that the Minnesota Senate is ready to acknowledge that and take action,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman at a news conference before the committee hearing.

At least 200 people crowded into a hallway inside the state Capitol waiting for the committee room to open at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The room filled up, as did an overflow room across the hall.

State Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, and Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts spoke in favor of the background check bill. Several representatives from pro-gun groups were against the measure.

Sa’Lesha Beeks, whose mother was shot and killed in Minneapolis in 2016, told lawmakers that tougher background check restrictions may have prevented her mom’s killer from getting a gun.

But opponents said the legislation would not reduce gun crime, while putting a burden on law-abiding gun owners.

“Why must I now pay the government a fee in order to get a permit to purchase just so I can sell a gun to a person that I know and I trust?” said Daniel Ward of the African American Heritage Gun Club. “That doesn’t make sense.”

The bill’s chief author, state Rep. Dave Pinto, amended his bill to allow transfers to immediate family members without a background check. The Democratic-controlled committee rejected a Republican proposal to lengthen the list of people exempted from the requirement.

The background check bill is headed to the House Judiciary committee, and Democratic leaders said they ultimately expect to pass it on the House floor. 

The second bill, which allows police to get a court order to take guns from a person, also got a committee hearing Wednesday. But it was unlikely that lawmakers could hold a vote on the bill Wednesday night because of a rule that the committee must recess at midnight.

Both gun restriction measures will face opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said over the weekend that passage in his chamber “ain’t gonna happen.”

The committee’s hearing capped a strange weeklong process. Democrats initially planned to hold the meeting at an Edina school and later a school in Hopkins to emphasize recent mass shootings at schools in other states. But gun owners asked to carry weapons onto the gun-free school grounds, and Democrats responded by moving the hearing back to the Capitol.

“The fact that they bullied two different school districts out of hearing a bill in the community with the students that worked so hard to get it there, I think is really a shame,” Hortman said.