Senate Judiciary Committee takes up more gun legislation

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Michael Undlin of Plymouth peered over his wired-framed glasses at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday (Feb. 21) and admitted he had faced mental health challenges.

Undlin, 57, told the senators that he suffers from post traumatic stress, has felt depressed, anxious, but through an active life style, talks with his wife, sleeping well, has successful dealt with the problem.

Michael Undlin of Plymouth spoke of dealing with a mental health issue successfully and yet running afoul of provisions in one gun bill changing law regarding mental health and gun ownership. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Michael Undlin of Plymouth spoke of dealing with a mental health issue successfully and yet running afoul of provisions in one gun bill changing law regarding mental health and gun ownership. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“Despite all that,” Undlin said, “if I keep my gun, I’m a criminal.”

Undlin was one of a long list of people appearing before the committee as it took up gun bills — a House committee heard similar legislation earlier this month.

While legislation authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, a package of get-tough provisions championed by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and others, drew no opposition, a bill seeking to expand background checks on gun purchases drew intense testimony.

Undlin wasn’t alone in his criticism of Sen. Bobby Joe Champion’s back-ground check bill.

National Rifle Association lobbyist Chris Rager also criticized it for placing a “stigma” on people with mental health issues.

Under Champion’s bill, a provision in state law is changed that has the courts determining whether someone is mentally ill, developmentally disabled or a danger to the public.

Instead, ineligibility for gun possession is expanded to those who have ever been confined for mental illness or hospitalized for the habitual use of controlled substances.

Under such definitions, Rager argued, someone who had been hospitalized for an eating disorder would be ineligible to own a gun.

Law enforcement officials spoke of the need for a close watch.

City of Rogers Police Chief Jeff Beahen testified in a Senate committee on Thursday (Feb. 21) examining gun legislation. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

City of Rogers Police Chief Jeff Beahen testified in a Senate committee on Thursday (Feb. 21) examining gun legislation. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

City of Rogers Police Chief Jeff Beahen spoke of a late 92-year-old World War II veteran, suffering from dementia and convinced that family members were the enemy, applying for a gun permit.

Local law enforcement is often aware of people in the community who should not possess guns, he explained.

They’re talking about people who have been the subject of multiple police calls — 60, 80 calls, he said.

A Brooklyn Park police officer spoke of processing a gun permit application to find out the applicant had committed suicide.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman drives home a point during testimony on legislation sought by county attorneys. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman drives home a point during testimony on legislation sought by county attorneys. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

But committee members, too, expressed concerns over the provisions dealing with mental health issues.

Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, urged Champion to change the bill.

Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, also expressed uneasiness with the language.

Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, indicated he would rework the provision.

Lines were starker on other provisions in the bill, which, among other things, would require private citizens in transferring pistols or semiautomatic military-style assault weapons to do so through a federally licensed firearms dealer.

It would allow law enforcement agencies to charge a $25 application fee — a gun owner’s poll tax, one opponent scoffed — and authorizes law enforcement to require applicants to appear in person.

Exemptions for gun transfers between family members.

“We’re getting tired of it,” Gun Owners Rights Alliance Vice President Andrew Rothman said of gun owners being blamed for the problems in the world.

Besides dismissing assertions that 40 percent of gun sales occur without background checks — the number is about 10 percent, opponents argued — Joe Olson, a law professor and Gun Owners Rights Alliance president, styled the legislation as a step closer to gun registration.

“It’s a little clunky at the moment,” Olson said of the perceived mechanisms of registration.

But the pieces are falling into place, he insisted.

Things looked differently to Sami Rahamim, who recalled sending his father a message last fall warning him of a shooting near his business, Accent Signage, but never getting back a reply.

Only later, Rahamim learned that his father, Reuven Rahamim, a highly successful businessman, had been shot and killed in a workplace shooting.

“My father lived the American dream but died the American nightmare,” Rahamim said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, ponders testimony at Thursday's hearing. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, ponders testimony at Thursday’s hearing. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Speaking during a committee recess, Latz indicated it unlikely the Senate would agree to an assault weapons ban or ammo clip-size ban that had been debated in the House.

The bans are just too controversial, he argued.

“We had little amount of consensus among the citizenry and also among law enforcement,” Latz said.

Bans are best addressed at the federal level, he said,

Latz noted the lack of opposition to the provisions championed by county attorneys — he thought a bill he was carrying on “straw” gun purchases could be similarly received.

One provision sought by the county attorneys could have juveniles repeatedly caught carrying guns facing charges in adult court.

Another provision prohibits people ineligible to possess a gun from carrying ammunition.

Latz’s committee is expected to hold another hearing on gun legislation on Friday (Feb. 22) at noon.

No votes have been taken on the bills, but Latz is setting them aside for possible inclusion into a larger bill.

He expects to bring that final bill back to the committee by the first week of March.

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