Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, has discovered again that there is no comfortable middle ground when the subject is guns.
At noon at the Capitol, Hilstrom, standing with Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek and Rep. Tony Cornish, the gun-toting legislator from Good Thunder, introduced a gun bill that she said “can bring people together’’ on the volatile subject of guns.
Her words were still echoing in the Capitol when critics, who had hoped for much stronger actions from the Minnesota Legislature, lambasted the effort of Hilstrom and a bipartisan group of 69 other legislators to “close gaps’’ in current state gun law.
“This is just a band-aid over a huge problem,’’ said Jane Kay of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, an organization formed in the days following the mass shooting of school children in Newtown, Conn. “I’m fed up. I’m angry. We have the opportunity to do great things and this (the bill) doesn’t come close.’’
NRA supports it
The bill has the support of the National Rifle Association, presumably because it does nothing to require background checks on all gun sales and because it does nothing to restrict sales of military-style weapons or even the quantity of rounds in ammunition magazines.
Despite the fact that it’s a bill that authors hoped would unite people, it seems to be dividing. Yes, there was a mix of Republican and DFL representatives standing with Hilstrom, Cornish and Stanek. Other than Stanek and the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, there were no law-enforcement organizations represented at the news conference where the proposal was unveiled. There also were no DFL senators, though presumably the bill will be as attractive to outstate senators as it appears to be to many outstate DFL representatives.
Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, and the chairman of the House public safety committee, has indicated he has no desire to have the bill heard by his committee. Paymar is pushing a bill that would require purchasers of guns at flea markets and gun shows to go through background checks.
Yet, given the large number of co-authors with Hilstrom, there likely are ways for the bill to weave its way through the legislative process.
What it does
What the bill does, Hilstrom and Stanek said, is prohibit felons from possessing ammunition, create mandatory minimum prison sentences for violent felons who are convinced of possessing firearms on a second offense and make it a felony for individuals to file false reports of lost or stolen firearms.
Additionally, it “improves criminal data sharing’’ between the state and feds. The goal, in that case, is to keep guns out of the hands of those with a history of mental illness.
“Never should a person deemed mentally ill have access to a gun,’’ said Stanek, emphasizing the importance of better sharing of mental-health data with the feds.
Stanek said the bill includes important “incremental change’’ in state gun law.
‘My role is to be a peacemaker’
Cornish, usually a lightning rod in the gun debate, said he was taking a different role regarding the fate of this bill.
“Several of my statements (in the past) have been controversial,’’ he said. “Today my role is to be a peacemaker.’’
No sooner had he said that than he uttered a statement that raises the hackles of those hoping for stronger gun measures.
“I want to thank the NRA for helping (on the bill),’’ he said. He went on to say that the bill “contains nothing for gun owners to fear.’’
Hilstrom, in her seventh term, refused to talk about her true feelings of the bill. Rather, she kept speaking of the importance of “passing a bill that will solve real problems.’’
She did point out that she never has sought the endorsement of the NRA and that in the past she has received a “C,’’ “D,’’ and “F’’ from the NRA.
‘I’m looking for solutions’
“My goal is to come here and be a problem solver,’’ Hilstrom said. “I’m looking for solutions.’’
Critics weren’t generous.
Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, derided the bill as “NRA-approved.’’
“Any bill that fails to address the gaping holes in our background check law falls far short of the public’s demand for the right to be safe in our communities,’’ Martens said in a statement.
Clarification: Language in this version makes clear that besides Stanek’s organization, no other law-enforcement groups were present.