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Background-checks gun bill advances in Senate, but fate uncertain

MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Sen. Ron Latz used his position as chair to strengthen gun-control legislation coming out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A bill that was supposed to find common ground on firearms continues to divide Minnesota lawmakers, even as powerful Democrats push forward with their own priorities on gun control.

On a party-line committee vote Thursday, Democrats sent to the Senate floor a measure that includes so-called “universal” background checks — the main priority of gun-control advocates.

In the process, the Senate Judiciary Committee stifled competing gun legislation’s chances of passage.

Sen. Ron Latz, committee chairman, took much of the NRA-backed legislation that some Democrats hoped would bridge the ideological gap between the opposing sides and amended it into his more-controversial package of gun-control measures.

“The bill was intentionally put together to draw on what I thought were the best suggestions of all of the persons at this table and others to create as much possibility for consensus as possible,” Latz said after the hearing.

He also reminded lawmakers of the power a committee chairman wields.

Latz blocked GOP Sen. Julianne Ortman’s pure version of the NRA-backed bill — which lawmakers unveiled last week — from receiving a vote in his committee.

Ortman’s proposal falls short of what gun-control advocates are looking for, but many lawmakers looked to it as a compromise bill to pass some form of gun legislation this session. Second Amendment supporters cheered the legislation on.

The bill would enhance data sharing with the federal background check system, crack down on so-called “straw purchases” and include a prosecutor-backed measure to address ammunition possession and illegal gun owners, among other provisions. 

Ortman was combative in committee and called on Latz to hear her bill — versions of which appeared to be gaining momentum in both the House and Senate over the last week.

Latz’s mash-up of gun legislation ended up further straining relations between both sides.

ortman portrait
Sen. Julianne Ortman

“I consider this to be a hostile takeover of my bill. I don’t support what you’re doing with my work,” Ortman told Latz during the Thursday hearing. “We don’t need new restrictions on gun purchases or ownership … we don’t need universal background checks.”

“We don’t need more gun control. We have plenty of gun laws,” Waconia Mayor Jim Nash told the committee, testifying against universal background checks. “What we need is criminal control. We need to understand the true nature of what’s going on in front of us.”

After hearing testimony on several parts of Latz’s overall package, DFLers on the committee moved it forward on a 5-3 party-line vote. Now the Democrat from St. Louis Park has to round up enough votes to pass it in the Senate.

GOP Sen. Warren Limmer, a member of the Judiciary Committee, told Latz the universal background check provision doesn’t have the support to move forward. So far, opponents have attempted to cast stricter gun-control measures as unnecessary.

But Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, who originally carried the universal background check provision as a stand-alone measure, pushed back against the conventional wisdom that the bill doesn’t have the support to pass. Critics have said it is especially weak in the House.

“I think you’ve got to ask those folks have they … ‘whipped’ the caucuses in order to know if that’s true or not?” Champion said of whether they have enough votes. “I think … that’s a diversion in order to make sure they water down the process so that they don’t have to do some things that are important for all Minnesotans.”

Latz said he believes “there’s a reasonable chance” the bill could pass in the Senate. He was also “perplexed” Ortman didn’t support his package, which included much of what she wanted, chalking it up to “petulance.”

Ortman isn’t sure how she’ll move forward from here. Her bill could get pulled to the Senate floor, or Latz could change his mind and give it a hearing – but that’s unlikely.

“We’re kind of at the funny stage. The dust will settle over the next few days, I expect, and then we’ll see what’s going to happen,” Ortman said. “We haven’t made a decision on what to do next.”

Now, the attention switches back to the House.

Rep. Michael Paymar, who is carrying the companion to Latz’s measure, said the House Public Safety Committee would hear his bill on Tuesday. The St. Paul lawmaker is “hopeful” that the measure can garner the votes to pass.

“Right now we’ll just have to wait and see,” Paymar said Thursday afternoon. “It’s hard to tell. It’s very close.”

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 03/15/2013 - 12:27 pm.

    Latz’ Twin MIstakes

    It’s unfortunate that Latz uses a term (petulant) about a woman legislator that he would not use with a man. But the man has now made two very big political blunders. If the House is lost in 2014 DFL’ers should hold Latz accountable. He has purposely introduced two of the G (Gays and Guns) issues into the Legislative calendar after the party campaigned against the Republicans for ‘promoting ‘divisive social issues’ in the 2012 Legislature. These issues are not going to play well in rural swing districts-I know I am a DFL activist in one of them. I’ll probably sit 2014 out. Latz and the metro crowd have just shot two holes in my feet. My feet will be up on a pillow recovering. Maybe I’ll let them come down and do all the doorknocking and try to keep DFL control of the Legislature. I don’t back lost causes.

    • Submitted by Susanne Engstrom on 03/15/2013 - 03:23 pm.


      Petulant is a perfect descriptor for her. Watch her more on the Floor!!

      • Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 03/15/2013 - 08:31 pm.


        I don’t want to be too PC but I think men have to watch their language. Latz who ‘instructed the committee’ on the powers of the chair calls someone petulant because he took her bill hostage. Who’s he kidding? That’s petulant. I do not care for Julianne Ortman and other harsh Sarah Palin types. I find them more offensive than many R men but I temper that with the recognition that this is the way many women are. I don’t buy into the feminist perspective that ‘if we ran the rowld it would be a better place. BS LOok at at Ortman and Palin. They are just as representative of the female character as are our women DFL heros (who by the way can turn the knife, too). People are people. The typical American man or woman is fat, lazy, rich, selfish and conservative with a soft place in their heart for the unfortunate-as long as ala Portman its in their family or someone they have met.

  2. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 03/15/2013 - 12:31 pm.

    If you want change start using the manufacturer’s names.

    The gun enthusiasts are right that banning high capacity clips, by themselves, won’t solve the problem. Banning assault rifles, by themselves, won’t solve the problem. Background checks, by themselves, won’t solve the problem. The gun problem is a multi-faceted problem. Banning high capacity clips, assault rifles, mandating background checks, and working the mental illness issue will help solve the problem as an orchestrated effort, not a piecemeal effort. If solving the problem means 100% solved, we will never get there. If solving the problem means reducing gun violence deaths over time, which will be progress. Gun and political zealots running fear campaigns to get their way is not in America’s interest. Keep in mind the NRA is nothing more than the face of Winchester, Remington, Colt, Smith and Wesson, etc, etc, so they can keep their names clean. The manufacturers are just as complicit as the NRA in all the nonsense. Start using the manufacturer’s names and things will change quickly. The NRA running the country is not in America’s interest. The connection between the NRA and politicians is purely a campaign financing issue. If the politicians stay off the NRA’s bad list, they get campaign funds for their campaigns. It is all part of the corruption and total lack of common sense happening in politics, at all levels, right now. It was proven in the last election that the rich can’t buy elections. Keep track of how your representatives are voting and vote them out in the next election if they are not voting as you wish. The polls show a large majority of the electorate doesn’t like how their representatives are behaving on the gun control issue.

  3. Submitted by Eric Larson on 03/15/2013 - 02:28 pm.

    Good Read, pegged Senator Latz

    Minnpost writer covered this event pretty well. I was there. Room 15 was stuffed with 2nd Amendment advocates. I counted 3-5 public supporters of Latz’s bill. Roughly 140-60 opposed. Overflow room in the Great Hall was 2/3 full. I’ve sat through plenty of hearings. I’ve never scene a chairman publically threaten to not put any fellow members bills on the agenda in the future. But that is what Latz did. He did it from the witness chair.

    The committee was heading for a vote. His own Vice-Chair was trying to get people home before midnight. Latz had already had his speaking time. But he had to ad his veiled threat, after his time was up. He was losing his cool. His voice was going up an octave. He was trying to run his committee from the witness seat and doing a bad job of it. His behavior was out of line. Note to Senate DFL Caucus, you might want to address this. He’s hurting you.

    • Submitted by Donna Koren on 03/16/2013 - 03:52 pm.

      Latz kept his cool

      I was at the hearing as well. A packed hearing room for one side or another does not translate, particularly in this case, to level of support among the public, or sound public policy. It just means that one side is organized and can pack a hearing room. Sen. Latz made a number of attempts to move forward a consensus bill, incorporating many many features of Ortman’s original NRA-backed bill. He also extended the amount of time a person could lend out a hunting rifle, from the current 12 hours (in statute) to 72 hours, as a gesture to the other side and at their request. This measure was met with outright derision from the mayor mentioned in the article, who testified and who apparently wasn’t aware of current statute, despite, in his own words, being “anal” about being law-abiding. Ortman introduced her bill late in the legislative process, and Latz was very accomodating. The Republican members on his committee all displayed petulance, played to the crowd, and showed no interest in reaching consensus.

  4. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 03/15/2013 - 04:25 pm.

    Banning stuff

    Banning anything guns, drugs, alcohol, bread, you name it has never worked and will not work. All banning something does is make new millionaires. As soon as something is banned, somebody will think of way to smuggle it in and sell it. I don’t care what it is the banned, that is way it has always been and that is the way it will always be.

  5. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 03/15/2013 - 04:37 pm.


    When was the last time some of the teenage gang bangers in the Metro, had a background check before they got the gun that they used to shoot and killed the person they were after? How many stolen guns are brought into the state from, another state, from mexico, from an Eastern bloc country, and or China? How many people in the state of MN have a false ID that they can use to buy any item they wish, including guns and alcohol? How do we know any background check is accurate? Why does the FBI sell certified copies of background checks for $18.00? How do we know Paymar, Latz and others know anything about background checks? Why won’t legislators release their CV’s? Why are legislators spendin mote time on gun control and gay marriage than jobs and the state budget? Why won’t legislators answer any of these questions for anyone who asks?

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