Gun-control advocates sparred with Second Amendment purists Tuesday at the Capitol, where they debated a pair of gun-control measures that, everyone agreed, don’t stand a chance of passage this session.
Despite the low stakes at the “purely informational” hearing, parties on both sides still managed to get testy at times, sharply disagreeing on everything from gun death statistics to public opinion polls to the patriotism of the opposition.
After nearly three hours, it fell upon Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, to ask the obvious.
“I’m kind of questioning why we are having this hearing today when it’s not designed to have any conclusion,” said Limmer, who noted that the bills were rolled out after the Legislature’s deadline for policy bills had lapsed.
The chief author of both measures, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, responded that he didn’t rush because it was apparent to him that no gun-control legislation would get a hearing in the GOP-controlled House this session and he didn’t want to gum up the prospects of other, more viable legislation.
“That said, I thought it was important to continue this conversation that we’ve had a number of times,” said Latz, the chair of the Judiciary Committee.
One of Latz’s bills (Senate File 2493) would require universal background checks for gun sales. The other (Senate File 2980) would allow law enforcement, family members and romantic partners to petition a judge to prevent people from possessing firearms if they present a clear danger to themselves or others.
Latz began his presentation by screening a TV ad from the organization Minnesota Gun Rights that described his background-check bill as “just the first step to gun confiscation” and cast Latz as a tool of Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor.
“What you’ve just seen is not productive for an honest conversation,” said Latz, adding that such “politically toxic rhetoric” makes it difficult to come up with solutions for gun violence.
That shot across the bow evidently didn’t discourage Andrew Rothman, the president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, from opening his remarks with a Hitler reference.
“Will Rogers once said a lie can get half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on. And Adolf Hitler said the best way to propagate propaganda is to repeat it over and over and over,” Rothman said. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of propaganda today.”
Later, when Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, asked Rothman what “really scares you” about the background check bill, Rothman fired back, “I believe the what-are-you-afraid-of question is akin to when did you stop beating your wife. When the premise of the question is faulty, there cannot be a legitimate answer.”
That drew a sharp rebuke from Latz: “Mr. Rothman, we are going to be civil here or you will not be allowed to participate any further.”
Joseph Olson, a retired law professor and founder of the gun owners alliance, then stepped in to explain that his group’s members are “afraid of any steps that ease the slippery slope to registration.”
Olson said that Latz’s bill would make it easier for the government to ultimately merge separate databases of gun owners and guns, even though that’s not currently allowed under federal law. “With modern technology, they’re one computer click away from being combined,” Olson said.
“We are afraid of a government list that links each of us with the firearms we legitimately own,” Olson said. “We’ve seen what’s happened in other countries that have had registration, and we don’t intend to let that happen in America.”
“With all due respect, we’ve seen what happens in other states that have criminal background checks,” responded Latz, who went on to caution the rest of the testifiers that “we’re not going to call anyone’s patriotism into question.”