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New House deal expands firearms background checks only to gun shows

ST. PAUL -- Gun control backers have given up controversial proposals in an effort to pass some measures aimed at curbing gun violence in Minnesota.

The House Public Safety Committee chairman dropped a plan to expand background checks to virtually all gun sales that was set for a vote Tuesday evening. He said there is a new agreement that will include only checks for purchases at gun shows.

Chairman Michael Paymar of St. Paul said he and fellow Democratic Rep. Debra Hilstrom of Brooklyn Center agreed to kill Paymar's bill but include background checks for all gun show firearm sales in a new proposal they said will be ready later this week.

"Like any compromise, I think people will be disappointed on both sides," Paymar said. But "we have an agreement the gun show loophole will be plugged," which he called "a big step."

Hilstrom's plan, backed by the National Rifle Association, also would increase penalties for illegally possessing a firearm or buying weapons for those who cannot have them, known as straw purchases. It would add more to the existing background check system as well.

The lawmakers said the new bill needs to be ready for a committee hearing sometime this week to meet deadlines.

Paymar also lost a provision allowing law enforcement officials to deny gun permits to those who are a danger to themselves or others.

A Senate committee passed a bill last week that included expanded background checks.

Paymar's original plan to do that drew significant criticism and likely would not have passed his House committee.

"I was prepared to actually lose the bill today," Paymar said. Republicans and some Democrats on the committee had said they opposed the measure.

Rep. Dan Schoen of St. Paul Park is among Democrats on Paymar's Public Safety Committee.

Schoen said in a Bulletin interview that he would have voted to move the bill out of committee, but he was not comfortable with Paymar's plan on background checks and did not believe it would have passed the House.

"We can expand some background checks, but I've always been very cautious to the idea of how far we go before we get to the line of what people consider to be registering all gun sales," Schoen said. "In the long term, those concerns have to be alleviated as a whole."

Schoen said he supports expanding background checks to include purchases made at gun shows. It is not right, Schoen said, that someone can set up at a gun show and sell firearms without running background checks while a federally licensed gun dealer at the same show has to run background checks.

Schoen said he does not believe extending background checks to gun shows amounts to creating a registry, as some gun-rights advocates claim. He said the plan to extend background checks to private sales is problematic.

"We just need to make sure that we are careful around the Second Amendment, there's no question about it. I recognize that," he said. "It's not an easy topic because there's a lot of passion on both sides of it."

Paymar said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, urged the lawmakers to find some kind of solution.

"This is the best we could do," Paymar said.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said he still is not satisfied with the apparent compromise announced Tuesday night.

"The only way we can put an end to this thing is to fight it all the way," he said. He added that the gun show "loophole" is an intentional exclusion from some gun control provisions.

"We need to look at crime control versus gun control," NRA spokesman Chris Rager said Tuesday.

Opponents have said the background checks and other increased controls threaten Second Amendment rights.

Paymar disagreed.

"I think this is a minor inconvenience for a civilized society," he said earlier Tuesday.

Rural Democrats have said they would have trouble supporting significant gun control legislation, including background checks.

Paymar said this agreement hopefully will garner more support.

No proposals that remain on the table include the more contentious measures banning assault rifles or high-capacity magazines discussed in Paymar's committee earlier in the legislative session.

Lawmakers talked over a number of proposals and heard hours of testimony during the first few months of the session before the overall gun control bill was introduced.

The House committee discussed Paymar's proposal Tuesday morning and planned to return in the evening to further talk about and vote on the bill. Cornish warned that the break was to allow for "bullying" and "twisting arms."

"They're desperate to get something passed," he said of Democrats.

-Scott Wente contributed to this story.