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Jesus ‘enters’ legislators’ gun control debate

Rep. Tony Cornish, a Republican gun-rights advocate, raised the name and accused the committee chairman of “bullying” other lawmakers to support his bill.

“I’m a Missouri Synod Lutheran,” Cornish said. “In Luke, Jesus said, ‘Sell your cloak and buy a sword.’ ”
MinnPost file photo by James Nord

The Capitol’s long-running, emotional gun control debate prompted a new question Tuesday morning: “What would Jesus do?”

And it prompted charges of strong-arming.

The suggestion that “bullying” is going on was first raised by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon City.

The comments came after the chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, started off the hearing on his background-checks bill by announcing that the committee would not vote on the measure until 7 o’clock tonight.

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That news brought grumbles from Republicans on the committee who claimed that Paymar was going to use the time “to bully’’ DFL members of the committee who do not want to support his bill, which is strongly opposed by the NRA.

“This bill is a nightmare for all gunowners,’’ Cornish said, before turning to Paymar and saying, “During the recess … don’t badger them [DFL members of the committee.]’’

Indeed, it does appear that Paymar is going to have a tough time rounding up enough DFL votes on the committee to pass his “loophole” bill, which would require background checks on those attempting to purchase weapons at gun shows, on the Internet or through private,
person-to-person sales.

The suggestion that Paymar was going to use the hours between the morning committee hearing and the evening vote to “badger’’ members of the committee was not the most surprising comment made by Cornish Tuesday morning.

That came from Cornish, who grew restless as pastor after pastor testified to the need for the Paymar bill to pass. Words like “moral” and “protecting children’’ were repeatedly used by the pastors.

Cornish, finally, decided to respond to all this morality talk from what he considered a bunch of left-leaning preachers.

“I’m a Missouri Synod Lutheran,” Cornish said. “In Luke, Jesus said, ‘Sell your cloak and buy a sword.’ ”

That Jesus was being presented as a Second Amendment guy startled everyone in the packed hearing room.

After the hearing, Cornish said he’s long been holding  on to the verse from Luke 22:36 to toss into the gun debate. In his mind, Cornish said, that verse  means that Jesus would have no problem with people packing a pistol “to protect their families.”

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The verse, it should be noted, has led to many debates among theologians, most of whom seem to believe that, when taken in context, Jesus was not advocating the use of swords — or presumably pistols — as a way to settle differences.

That theological discussion did not take place in the committee hearing, however. Cornish’s use of Jesus just sort of hung over a debate that goes on and on and on.

But when the charge that Paymar was trying to bully DFLers was made again by a witness, the NRA’s Christopher Rager, a side spat did develop.

Rager said, in testimony, that the reason the vote was being postponed was so that Paymar and others who support the bill could “wrangle” reluctant legislators.

Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, stopped Rager.

“Bullying people?” Lesch asked. “Who is bullying people?”

“I’ve been told by members that is happening,” Rager said.

Lesch wanted names. He wanted examples. He wanted specifics.

Rager seemed to have none.

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paymar portrait
MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Paymar, after the morning session, denied he was bullying or wrangling anyone.

For his part, Paymar, after the morning session, denied he was bullying or wrangling anyone.

“It [the vote] is very close,” Paymar said. “I’m just hopeful that between now and 7, some hearts and minds could change.”

Paymar also said he would be open to amendments to his bill. For example, he indicated he would be open to accepting large portions of a gun bill proposed recently by Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center.

The Hilstrom bill has more than 70 co-authors from both parties, and it has the approval of Cornish and the NRA.

It would, however, do nothing to close gun show loopholes, but it would require some technical changes in gun laws. For instance, it would stiffen penalties for those making straw purchases on behalf of those who are not allowed to have firearms, and it would require the state to forward more information to a national database regarding people with a history of mental health problems.

There’s little doubt that the Hilstrom “compromise” could pass both the House and Senate. But it’s considered tepid, at best, by Paymar and advocates of stronger gun legislation.

Merely adding the Hilstrom compromise to the Paymar bill will not make those opposing more controls happy.

“It’s like putting a diamond in a cow pie,” said Cornish.