House talks gun legislation

Published 10:12 pm Friday, March 23, 2018

Recent mass shootings across the United States have again sparked debate over possible gun control measures.

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said though eliminating gun deaths will not happen, lawmakers can work to reduce such incidents, and she supports increasing school security and enforcing existing gun laws. She said she supports ensuring the background check system works and wants to revamp mental health systems to ensure the mentally ill and chemically dependent do not resort to gun violence.

Bennett said addressing those issues should be bipartisan and would not require delving into polarizing gun control measures, such as an assault weapons ban or universal background checks.

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“People want to see something done, and I understand that,” Bennett said.

A former first-grade teacher at Sibley Elementary School, Bennett said her “heart breaks” when she hears about school shootings.

She said she wants to ensure passed laws work as intended and supports data-driven legislation.

“We don’t need to enact feel-good laws, because it doesn’t fix the problem,” she said.

Bennett said supporters and detractors of gun control legislation need to speak to each other, stop calling each other names and making accusations, and have a serious discussion on the issue. 

“Every idea should lay on the table,” she said.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the most realistic path for gun control legislation at the state level passed this week without gaining any traction. Thursday was the deadline for such legislation to pass through a committee, and the House’s public safety committee had not passed it.

According to the newspaper, the House kicked off its season this year by tabling a pair of bills — one calling for universal background checks for private gun sales in most cases and a second that lets police or family members petition a court for a restraining order preventing a person from possessing a gun for a period of time — have been batted around the Legislature in certain versions.

After a little-known rule was used to obtain a hearing for the legislation by the sponsor of the two bills — Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul — a second hearing was denied along party lines: all Democrats reportedly voted to take up the bills, and all but one Republican voted to deny the motions.

Proponents of the plans reportedly admitted in private the likely purpose of the hearing was more about how well the debate would resonate in November, not “the slim chance the bills would be moved this time,” according to the newspaper.

On universal background checks, Bennett said it is already illegal to sell firearms to felons and domestic abusers, adding the law will not change the intention of people who do not follow the law when selling firearms.

Bennett predicted the law would likely just prohibit family members from passing down their firearms to their children.

She said assault weapons are “like an invented word,” adding the proper term for such firearms is semi-automatic rifle. By banning such weapons, Bennett said lawmakers would not be addressing the cause of gun violence, adding a majority of gun deaths are suicides, with the second-highest category being gang deaths.

On the restraining order bill, Bennett said the issue needs to be addressed but needs to be done so without violating law-abiding individual rights. Such legislation needs to be passed precisely so it is not abused, she said.

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, did not return requests for comment.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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