House votes to legalize silencers, approves other gun bills

Published 9:39 am Friday, April 17, 2015

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House voted to legalize silencers, among a handful of bills approved Thursday to expand the state’s firearm laws even as the Senate has shown little appetite to wade back into gun issues.

Lawmakers quickly approved a measure removing a requirement that gun permit owners notify state officials before bringing a firearm onto Capitol grounds — a system proponents said is outdated and unnecessary — and another clarifying Minnesota residents’ ability to buy guns in other states. A third proposal limiting law enforcement officials’ ability to seize citizens’ firearms during a disaster or emergency also passed.

Tony Cornish

Tony Cornish

But the bill to legalize gun silencers — which proponents call suppressors — was the most controversial as the debate turned to the overall safety of the weapons, exposing the geographical fault lines between lawmakers over gun issues. Rural Democrats joined with GOP lawmakers to beat back a Minneapolis Democrat’s attempt to attach an amendment that would have expanded background checks to private gun sales.

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“It’s a typical reaction of a liberal … who doesn’t like gun rights,” said Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center. “The more you do to disarm people and keep them from exercising that right, the more votes you’re going to lose.”

Legislators eventually passed the bill 89 to 40, with many Democrats joining Republicans to approve the measure. But all four bills face an uncertain fate in the Senate and with Gov. Mark Dayton.

The Democratic governor said Wednesday he’d prefer to maintain the requirement that gun owners alert public safety officials when bringing firearms to the Capitol or other state buildings. The bill passed in the House would automatically approve residents who receive a permit to carry.

Still, the House’s passage of bills expanding gun laws mark a turnaround for gun-rights advocates, who just two years ago fought back Democrat-led efforts to increase background checks and impose other gun-related restrictions following the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.

Shades of that stalled 2013 debate cropped up again Thursday as Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, sought to expand background checks on the silencer bill by forcing private sellers and buyers to go through a licensed dealer.

“Consider what happens in my district,” he said, ticking off a list of gun-related deaths before his amendment was eventually defeated.

Proponents argued the ban on silencers should be lifted and the devices should be called “suppressors” in state law. Lake Shore Republican Rep. Mark Anderson said suppressors’ usage in hunting and shooting ranges don’t match with their pop culture image as a tool of silent assassins.

“All they do is reduce a sound from instantly ear-damaging to just really, really loud,” he said.

Joe Mullery

Joe Mullery

Rep. Joe Mullery, a Minneapolis Democrat, echoed the concerns of gun violence prevention advocates who worried suppressors would hinder law enforcement’s “shot tracker” technology.

“That means more crime, more criminals get away, more people are shot and more kids are killed,” Mullery said.