Legal silencers, other expansions stir gun debate

Published 9:35 am Friday, March 13, 2015

ST. PAUL — House lawmakers moved Thursday to legalize silencers and loosen the rules for bringing firearms onto the state Capitol grounds, reigniting debate over guns in Minnesota even as the leader of the Senate said he’d “like to stay out of the gun conversation” this year.

The House public safety committee passed a bill legalizing silencers over some Democratic lawmakers’ objections. The committee also unanimously passed a measure that would repeal the current requirement that gun owners notify state officials before carrying a firearm into state buildings, instead automatically approving permitted owners.

A third proposal clarifying Minnesota residents’ ability to buy guns in other states also passed unanimously.

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The trio of measures to expand Minnesota’s gun laws is a marked change for gun rights advocates, who just two years ago successfully fought to block legislation spurred after the 2013 Connecticut school shooting that would have expanded background checks and banned some assault weapons.

Proponents of expanding Minnesota’s gun laws are aided this time around by Republicans takeover of the House, which put a vocal ally in a powerful position. Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, sported an assault rifle pin on his lapel as he chaired Thursday’s House’s public safety committee.

All those measures face a rougher path in the Democrat-controlled Senate and with Gov. Mark Dayton, who said Thursday he doesn’t want to change the state’s gun laws.

Still, both sides of the debate turned out in force Thursday to pack a House hearing room full. And the move to legalize silencers was the main attraction.

Opponents such as Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, expressed concern that access to those muffling devices would hinder law enforcement’s ability to pick up gunfire through “shot tracker” technology. She urged lawmakers to consider that a quieter firearm may give mass murderers more time before being detected.