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Published February 08, 2013, 03:58 PM

Minnesota Democrats set course for gun regulation

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — After three days of emotionally charged hearings on Minnesota's gun laws, Democratic leaders are planning their next steps on possible gun control measures.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — After three days of emotionally charged hearings on Minnesota's gun laws, Democratic leaders are planning their next steps on possible gun control measures.

Hundreds of people packed the Capitol this week, spilling into several overflow rooms, for almost 15 hours of hearings on about a dozen different bills. Lawmakers heard testimony on proposals that would tighten background checks, toughen penalties for felons caught with guns and ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, said he expects to take up some or all of those bills on Feb. 21 and 22.

The challenge will be winning support from rural Democrats, who are generally more conservative on gun issues. That faction has a likely ally in Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, who until recently received top marks from the National Rifle Association for his positions on gun legislation.

As in many rural Minnesota families, guns in Bakk's family have been passed down for generations. He said at a news conference Friday that he owns "a lot of semi-automatics," but wasn't sure if they would be made illegal under a House bill to ban assault rifles.

Rep. Michael Paymar, the St. Paul Democrat who chaired the hearings in the House, said he and his committee will pick which bills should go into a gun violence package, which he plans to introduce in early March.

"We have our work cut out for us," Paymar said. "Not all of the bills that we heard are going to make it into the final bill. That's pretty clear."

Paymar said it should be easy to find consensus on some measures, like a bill to root out "straw purchasers," or people who buy guns for felons, as well as his own bill that would require universal background checks.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, sponsored three of the most divisive bills reviewed during the House's hearings, including the assault weapons ban. Another of hers would prohibit the manufacture or possession of ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds.

"People are dying and children are dying," Hausman said. "I would be shocked and disappointed if we didn't move forward on how we deal with this in Minnesota."

House Speaker Paul Thissen said the Democratic caucus as a whole won't stake a position on the gun bills.

Bakk said he would likely support the bill to eliminate "straw purchasers" and another one that would help prosecutors crack down on people who illegally own guns.

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