Legislative Gun Debate Begins To Overflow House Crowd

Cedric Scofield

By Don Davis

The two sides of Minnesota’s gun debate began laying out their arguments today during first of a series of legislative meetings.

This morning’s packed House committee meeting, with two other rooms full of people watching on television monitors, was the first of five meetings planned this week, with Senate gun meetings beginning later this month.

“We all have a piece of the truth and neither side has all the answers,” said Chairman Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, as the public safety committee meeting began with more than 500 people watching.

His bill to increase background checks for gun purchasers was first up, followed by a bill by Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, to restrict gun use by violent mentally ill Minnesotans.

Paymar said the committee will take votes on many of the dozen gun-related bills later this month. He also expects his committee to deal with school safety issues.

Among other provisions, the Paymar bill would require more information during background checks on gun buyers and would expand the permit waiting period two days, to seven, before a buyer could obtain a gun.

Police organizations voiced their support, but Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said that rank-and-file officers oppose the Paymar bill.

“We’re not doing enough to protect the citizens of our state from gun violence,” said Executive Director Dennis Flaherty of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers’ Association.

The son of the owner of Minneapolis’ Accent Signage, killed in a mass shooting last year, offered his support.

“Nothing prepares you for the news that your father has been murdered,” Sami Rahamim said in brief but emotional testimony.

“The gunman killed six fathers that day,” he added, leaving 15 orphans.

He called the shooting “a hyperpersonalized version of 9-11.”

His father, Reuven Rahamin, built the company and gained national attention for sign innovations

“My dad lived the American dream, but died the American nightmare,” Sami Rahamim said.

Gun supporters, meanwhile, criticized the Paymar bill as being overly restrictive.

Chris Rager of the National Rifle Association said the bill would remove fundamental Second Amendment gun rights.

The Paymar bill would require all gun buyers to undergo background checks, unlike current law that only requires them when federally licensed dealers sell guns.

“Private sales are the exception, not the rule,” Rager said.

Schoen’s bill is one of several expected to be debated this year dealing with the connection between mental health and gun violence.

The freshman lawmaker said some mentally ill people, such as one who “might be hearing voices” but has not been committed for treatment by a court, may not be safe to have a gun. His bill would expand the state’s ability to restrict gun use by the mentally ill.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, a former legislator, said the Schoen bill is important. “We have an epidemic of untreated mental illness.”

However, mental health advocates said few mass shooters are mentally ill and mentally ill people who are treated do as well as others.