Schoen bill in mix as legislative gun debate begins to overflow crowd
ST. PAUL -- Sami Rahamim delivered a powerful message to Minnesota legislators: Don't let other youths suffer through the shooting deaths of their fathers.
The son of the Minneapolis' Accent Signage owner, killed in a mass shooting last year, offered his support Tuesday to gun-control bills Minnesota legislators are considering.
"My dad lived the American dream, but died the American nightmare," the 17-year-old said about Reuven Rahamim, who built Accent Signage into a nationally known sign maker before he was killed by a gunman Sept. 27.
"Nothing prepares you for the news that your father has been murdered," Rahamim told the House public safety committee.
"The gunman killed six fathers that day," he added, leaving 15 fatherless children.
Rahamim has made it a mission to fight gun violence since his father and five others were killed at the western Minneapolis company. The shooter, who killed himself, apparently suffered from a mental illness.
The youth's testimony came during the first of at least five Minnesota House public safety committee hearings on a dozen gun-related bills. Committee Chairman Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said the committee will not vote on the bills, or even debate them, until late this month.
A Senate committee plans Feb. 21 and 22 hearings on similar gun bills, part of a national debate on guns set off by recent mass shootings.
More than 500 people watched Paymar's hearing, 200 packing the committee room and the rest watching television monitors in two overflow rooms. Most wore National Rifle Association or other pro-gun patches, buttons or shirts.
Paymar said he hopes pro- and anti-gun groups can come together in the final bills.
"We all have a piece of the truth and neither side has all the answers," Paymar said.
His bill to increase background checks for gun purchasers was first up, followed by a bill by Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, to restrict gun use by violent mentally ill Minnesotans.
Among other provisions, the Paymar bill would require collecting more information during background checks on gun buyers and would expand the permit waiting period two days, to seven, before a buyer could obtain a gun.
It also would ban anyone who ever has been committed to a mental health treatment facility from owning a gun if a court determines the person is mentally ill and dangerous.
The bill would require all gun buyers to obtain permits, while current law does not apply to private sales.
Paymar said that allowing some people to buy guns without a permit is a loophole. He said his bill helps to ensure that people do not get guns if they would be dangerous.
"We're not doing enough to protect the citizens of our state from gun violence," said Executive Director Dennis Flaherty of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers' Association.
Republicans complained that Democrats who gained control of the Legislature this year took up gun issues instead of dealing with budget matters.
Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, tweeted: "Just 30 days into session, DFL already abandoning focus on job creation and the budget to tackle divisive gun legislation."
Police organizations voiced their support for Paymar's bill, but Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said that rank-and-file officers oppose it.
Cornish, a longtime law enforcement officer, wore an assault rifle lapel pin, a hand cuffs pin and an NRA logo on his tie.
The NRA's Chris Rager said the bill would remove fundamental Second Amendment gun rights.
"Private sales are the exception, not the rule," Rager said.
Schoen's bill would allow a sheriff or police chief to require a doctor's statement certifying a person's ability to use weapons if a gun permit applicant's past hints at mental problems.
The freshman lawmaker said some mentally ill people, such as one who "might be hearing voices" but has not been committed for treatment by a court, may not be capable of using a gun.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, a former legislator, said the Schoen bill is important. "We have an epidemic of untreated mental illness."
However, mental health advocates said few mass shooters are mentally ill and mentally ill people who are treated do as well as others.