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Sheriff Stanek talks background checks with Biden

WASHINGTON — With the U.S. Senate close to beginning floor debate on gun violence prevention bills, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek was in Washington on Tuesday to try one last time to convince lawmakers to pass tougher federal background check rules.

Stanek and a group of law enforcement officials met with Vice President Joe Biden to talk about gun legislation Tuesday, Stanek’s sixth such White House meeting since gun violence came to the fore in December. His message, he said, was the same it’s been since then: When it comes to background checks, strengthen the rules currently in place.

“Sheriffs in this country want the president and Congress to focus first and foremost on improving the current background check system,” he said in an interview.

That means incentivizing or requiring states contribute more information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), be it public mental health records or felony convictions that would disqualify certain individuals from buying guns. Only a quarter of the states contribute that information now, and while NICS has disqualified more than 2 million would-be gun owners since 1994, Stanek said the system would work better if it had deeper data pools.

“If only 25 percent of the records, mental health and conviction data, is in there, how many more people actually got guns that should not have gotten them?” he said.

On Thursday, the Senate is scheduled to cast a procedural vote on a bill to expand the background check system and increase federal penalties for gun trafficking, the chamber’s first such vote on gun violence bills. Even though opposition from Republicans and moderate Democrats sunk other gun control provisions, like an assault weapons ban, Stanek said Congress, and the Minnesota Legislature, should at least be able to strengthen background checks.

“When you get done with some of the partisan rhetoric back-and-forth, these are real fixes that the American people will support and the people of Minnesota will support, and they need to get done,” he said. 

Devin Henry can be reached at

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