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Legislative search for consensus on gun laws looks tricky

There appears to be some room for compromise on a measure that would toughen rules involving juveniles.

“I own a lot of semi-automatics, and the first one I bought was when I was in 11th grade,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, a DFLer from Cook
MinnPost photo by James Nord

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk says he owns “a lot of semi-automatic weapons,” but isn’t sure whether they’re the sort of assault weapons that urban DFLers in the House proposed outlawing in a series of gun hearings this week.

“I don’t know. I don’t own an AR-15,” Bakk said with a laugh, referring to the rifle that’s become the face of a proposed assault weapons ban.

“I own a lot of semi-automatics, and the first one I bought was when I was in 11th grade,” said Bakk, a DFLer from Cook. “It’s a Remington 308, and it’s what I use for deer hunting. I own a lot of semi-automatic weapons. And if some people think those are assault weapons by definition, then I guess I have some, but I don’t have an AR-type weapon.”

Some reports show that rural DFLers like Bakk will be key to passing any of the gun-control bills that the House Public Safety Committee heard in a series of informational meetings this week. But legislative leaders in the House and Senate don’t appear ready to back many of the proposals.

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House Speaker Paul Thissen, though, said he hopes lawmakers can “reach some consensus about public safety and gun safety in the state of Minnesota yet this year in order to keep our kids and our communities safe.” The speaker said the House DFL caucus hasn’t taken a position on banning assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.

Bakk, when asked if he would support any gun-control measures, said proposals that would keep guns out of the hands of juveniles and people who are privately committed, as well as allow prosecutors to go after ammo possession, “seem to make some sense to me.”

Some gun advocates, including Joseph Olson, president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, said there might be room for compromise on that measure.

But House and Senate Republicans joined pro-gun advocates in criticizing DFLers for considering other proposals that would add restrictions on firearm ownership. They also attacked Democrats for not focusing on the state budget.

“Overall, we’re committed to growing the economy and creating jobs, and the budget is going to have a huge impact on that, and that’s what we’re concerned about,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said. “We look at this stuff right now as a distraction.”

Kurt Daudt
MinnPost photo by James Nord
“We look at this stuff right now as a distraction,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt.

Both Daudt and Senate Minority Leader David Hann said they hadn’t received any emails from constituents supporting more gun restrictions. Rather, the deluge of correspondence opposed limiting second amendment rights, they said.

“I have yet to receive one email in support of anything that they’re talking about in these public safety committees,” Daudt said. “But I have received hundreds … all of them organic emails, just people concerned about ‘Why are you doing this?’ ”

Polling released Feb. 5 from a KSTP-SurveyUSA poll shows roughly 60 percent public support for bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and 75 percent support for universal background checks.

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Still, Bakk, said some people don’t understand the sentimentality attached to firearms that are passed down as “cherished family heirlooms.”

“There’s something special about them,” he said. “Many of them actually come with a story.”