Is gun bill a “common-sense” change or a cop out?

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Rep. Debra Hilstrom of Brooklyn Center suggested the gun issue came to her rather than the other way around.

“When you serve on a committee, and you listen to a lot of testimony, and you get 6,000 emails in three days,” Hilstrom said with a smile, speaking after a State Capitol press conference Wednesday (March 6) announcing her gun legislation.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, stood before the House chamber on Wednesday (March 6) to present her gun legislation. Standing to the right of Hilstrom is Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, with Rep. Ton Cornish, R-Vernon Center, standing to the left. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, stood before the House chamber on Wednesday (March 6) to present her gun legislation. Standing to the right of Hilstrom is Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, with Rep. Ton Cornish, R-Vernon Center, standing to the left. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

With white-shirted sheriffs at her side, Hilstrom presented legislation that focuses on tightening existing background checks, includes provisions sought by county attorneys, but does not contain so-called universal background checks  found in other bills.

Hilstrom, Democrat and House Judiciary Finance and Policy Committee chairwoman, heralds her bill as a common sense, get-things-done, bipartisan piece of legislation with 73 bill cosponsors already lined up.

“This is an attempt to solve real problems for Minnesota,” she said.

The legislation is supported by the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and  the Gun Owners’ Civil Rights Alliance.

It’s called a National Rifle Association (NRA) cop-out bill by critics.

But Stanek styled the bill as focusing on preventing those who should not have access to guns from getting them.

It’s in keeping in what he’s been telling people, including President Barack Obama, since January, he said.

“Gun ownership is not a privilege,: Stanek said. “It is a right guaranteed by Second Amendment.”

Among the provisions in the bill is a broad sharing of mental health commitment information.

Time requirements are placed on corrections officials for the transfer of fingerprint information for background check purpose for out-of-state prisoners brought into their custody.

The bill makes it a felony to provide a licensed gun dealer or private seller of firearms or ammunition with information that the person knows to be materially false in order to deceive the sellers.

In a statement, Executive Director Heather Martens of Protect Minnesota called it predictable that an NRA-approved bill lacking the most important preventive steps in gun safety would be introduced.

“If this NRA bill passes, Uzis and Glocks (guns) will still be readily available online, at gun shows, at flea markets, and all over the state with no background checks,” Martens said..
“That’s crazy.”

But Hilstrom argues her legislation isn’t watered-down, and that she is  anything but an NRA pawn.

The top priorities of the sheriffs’ associations are in the bill, she said.

Likewise, changes sought by county attorneys are also found in it.

“I’ve never been endorsed by the NRA,” Hilstrom said.

“I got a ‘C’ once, a ‘D’ once, and an ‘F’ once,” she said of NRA legislative score cards.

Nor has she ever submitted a application for endorsement by the NRA, she said.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, speaking after a Capitol event, said he has always supported universal background checks — in the past he has said the  existing background-check law contains “gaping holes.”

Although saying he hadn’t yet seen Hilstrom’s legislation, Dayton said he had recently met with Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association officials.

“They have a good, common sense approach,” Dayton said.

It would be a “big disappointment” if lawmakers sent him gun legislation without a universal background check provision, Dayton explained.

But such an omission would not necessarily draw a gubernatorial veto, Dayton indicated.

“I tend to veto bills for what’s in them; not what’s not in them,” he said.

Some legislation heard before legislative committees this session would require most gun purchases to take place through licensed gun dealers.

Provisions allowing the gun dealers to charge fees for handling the sales transactions have been contained in some bills.

Andrew Rothman, vice presidnet of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance,  calls such fees the equivalent of a poll tax.

That is, it’s a fee for pursuing a constitutional right.

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com.

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