Gun bills aplenty at Legislature

MARSHALL – One changes the statutes of lawful firearms possession and violent crimes. One modifies the judicial process for restoring firearms eligibility to violent felons.

One changes provisions relating to the transfer of pistols and military-style assault weapons. One imposes gross misdemeanor penalties for falsely reporting a firearm as lost or stolen. And one improves mental health screening for a person applying for a firearms permit.

Together, the gun bills heard this week by a senate committee cover plenty of ground and have attracted advocates on both sides of an issue that promises to only get more heated as the 2013 session trudges along.

District 17 Democrat Sen. Lyle Koenen of Clara City doesn’t foresee any strict gun control bills being passed this session, the possible exceptions being anything related to mental health and school safety.

“When you’re talking about pretty strict gun control, I don’t know if the votes will be there to pass in the House or the Senate,” Koenen said. “My view of the Legislature is to let all the voices be heard. Since the (Sandy Hook Elementary School) shootings, this has become a very high profile issue with a lot of people, so having them come in and have their voice be heard is perfectly fine.”

Like Koenen, District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, doesn’t think the votes will be there for radical changes to the state’s gun laws, but he does see some potential for the mental health piece to move forward but said it might not necessarily be tied to any gun control bill.

“If there’s going to be an area where you see some movement, it would be in the mental health area,” he said. “Maybe more dollars for helping in those situations. I’m not sure where this will go, but I don’t think there’s going to be any major overhaul in our gun laws. I could be caught off guard and could be wrong.”

Testimony on the bills was heard this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Committee members did not take votes on the bills, which instead were laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill. The committee actually met twice Thursday and again Friday.

In all, seven DFL-sponsored bills were heard; all are sponsored by metro-area legislators. Three of the bills are authored by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.

Koenen said there were some Republican bills introduced and referred to committee, but those bills, he said, were pulled back out of committee Thursday.

“I think out rural DFL and Republican representatives realize a lot of our folks are involved in hunting and fishing, more so than the Twin Cities legislators,” Dahms said. “The Twin Cities legislators sometimes look at issues differently than we do. The rural DFLers, for the most part, are not going to be supportive of many of these bills.”

Minnesota law currently only requires that a person is at least 21 years old and is not a convicted felon or otherwise barred by law to purchase and legally possess a handgun.

To holster a handgun and carry it, loaded, on the street and anywhere not specifically prohibited, a legal gun-owner must successfully complete an authorized firearms training class taught by a certified instructor.