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Minnesota Senate hears more tales of death from gun violence

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Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) kicked off a Senate hearing on two major gun bills on Tuesday with a short attack commercial paid for by Minnesota Gun Rights.

Background checks on gun sales would lead to “gun confiscation,” warned a voiceover, accompanied by images of a SWAT team busting into a quaint little house. “Tell Senator Latz to stop Bloomberg’s gun registration and apologize for attacking law-abiding gun owners.”

The commercial set the stage for the toxic political theater surrounding guns in Minnesota – or as Andrew Rothman of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance told spectators who lined up to enter the hearing – “the show.”

Latz and his House counterpart, Rep. Dan Schoen (DFL-Cottage Grove), have authored a bill that would mandate universal background checks on all gun sales, including internet, gun show, and individual-to-individual sales.

Another bill would allow people who sense mental instability or violent tendencies in their family members to ask local law enforcement to confiscate their guns temporarily until they sought help.

So many advocates on both sides turned out that staff limited the number of people who could attend. While pro-gun control advocates bearing portraits of their slain loved ones testified to horrendous stories of murder, suicide, and domestic violence, anti-gun control lobbyists confessed their fear that background checks would lead to universal registration and eventual firearm confiscation. 

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There was New Hope Police Chief Tim Fournier, who recounted in detail the 2015 shotgun ambush on the New Hope city council by 68-year-old Ray Kmetz, who fired into a crowd of newly sworn police officers and their family members.

In the ensuing struggle, Kmetz was shot and killed. Rookie cop Joshua Eernisse and Officer Beau Schoenhard, an unarmed, off-duty cop and father of a 15-month-old, were wounded. Kmetz, who'd once been committed as delusional, had ordered the shotgun online. 

Jennifer Polzin, CEO of the Tubman Center, a domestic violence advocacy group, recounted the 2015 murder of Maplewood's April Erickson by her husband, Todd Tennin. Erickson's 16-year-old daughter, 12-year-old son, and their 15-year-old friend were home at the time.

Tennin had previously done time for a firearm-related offense. According to the 12-year-old, there were eight guns in the home, even though dad wasn't legally allowed to have any.

"It doesn't make sense that a domestic violence offender can buy a gun in Minnesota without a background check," Polzin said.  

Meanwhile, the anti-gun control camp was in full hysteria mode. Andrew Rothman, president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, claimed that Latz's background check bill is akin to universal registration. Whenever people buy guns from a federally licensed firearms dealer, they need to fill out a form that includes the purchaser's name and address, as well as the make, model, and serial number of the gun. 

"I don't buy it. That is registration," Rothman said. 

In reality, the form is not kept by the government, but by independent dealers. It can only be compiled by the feds if those businesses close. Even then, access is so limited, even for law enforcement, that they can only be reviewed in the tracing of a crime gun. 

"We are afraid of any steps that ease the slippery slope to registration," explained Joseph Olson, law professor emeritus at Hamline University and chairman of GOCRA. "Your bill puts the entire transaction into the inventory. With modern technology, they're one click away."

Tuesday's hearing was entirely informational, which means there was no action on the bills, and they will not receive a vote on the Senate floor this year.