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Senate approves bill to restore gun bill struck down by courts

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP)- Gun control advocates in the Senate got an opportunity they were denied two years ago, as they tried - but ultimately failed - to set stricter limits on who can carry a handgun in public as their fellow lawmakers voted to revive a court-overturned 2003 gun permit law.

"I will not be silenced on this bill and I will not hesitate to point out what a terrible bill it is," said Sen. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, even as a bipartisan group of senators methodically rejected multiple efforts to create more gun-free zones, limits on who can carry guns and deeper background checks on permit applicants.

After hours of debate the Senate voted 44-21 for the handgun bill, a duplicate of the 2003 act that courts struck down because of the flawed method lawmakers used to pass it. At the time, supporters of the bill attached it to an unrelated measure, robbing opponents of the chance to make changes they sought.

Those opponents were able to attach some of those changes to the bill last week in a Senate committee, but found themselves stymied as supporters of the handgun law stripped them right back out during Friday's floor debate, saying they trampled the freedom of gun owners.

"The people of Minnesota understood this from the beginning, it was just here in these halls that they didn't understand it," said Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, the bill's sponsor. "You can trust citizens to use their rights responsibly. I think we proved that we can trust them."

The measure aims to bring statewide standards to the issuance of gun permits, rather than leaving it to the discretion of county sheriffs as was previously done.

Opponents say it makes handgun permits too widely available, and they blasted supporters for voting down attempts to let churches, government offices and other public facilities create their own gun-free zones, and other amendments that in one way or another would have created stronger limits on who could get the permits.

"They've pretty much guaranteed that the state's going to be right back in court again," Rebecca Thoman, executive director of Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, said after the vote. "They're just showing the sway that the gun lobby has over the Legislature."

Chief among likely legal challenges is an effort by church groups that say they should have greater power to restrict guns on their premises than the bill allowed. Several amendments attempted to extend those rights, but all failed.

"Most people of faith that I know don't want guns where they worship," Skoglund said. The Senate also voted down an amendment that would have let local governments restrict the carrying of guns in their government buildings.

"We allow every private business owner to ban guns in their establishment, but local governments - even if they're scared, even if they think there's a legitimate threat - they can't do it," said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville.

But proponents argued efforts to scale back access to handgun rights amounted to an attack on the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment.

"I'd invite you to consider the outrage and indignation of our citizens if we applied that same standard to other constitutional provisions, like the right to vote," said Sen. David Gaither, R-Plymouth.

The new version of the gun bill still must be approved by the House, but that seems likely as the bill had always enjoyed wider support in that body.



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