- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Gun control advocates and firearm rights supporters packed a hearing Tuesday for legislation that would expand background checks to all gun sales and transfers - even though it won’t come to a vote.

Those gathered quoted surveys, polls and data that backed up their claims, which ranged from gun violence being mostly perpetrated by criminals and the frequency with which firearm purchases escape a background check. “A battle of statistics,” quipped Sen. Ron Latz, the St. Louis Park Democrat behind the measure.

Gun rights are a perennial issue at the Capitol, but the measure stands no chance of becoming law this year, partially because Republicans control the Minnesota House, according to Latz, who chairs the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. Yet, it’s thorny even when Democrats control Minnesota’s government: A 2013 push to impose universal background checks and ban some assault weapons faltered due to rural Democrats and Republicans banding together.

Though Latz outlined another bill Tuesday that would allow family members and police chiefs to petition a court to suspend a person’s gun ownership if there’s a fear of danger, supporters and opponents focused on the background check measure, which would expand gun laws by requiring checks on gun sales at gun shows, online and in personal transfers, with some exceptions for family members.

Opponents argued that the measures in question would do little to deter criminals who commit violence with guns, saying they would continue stealing or buying guns.

Joseph Olson, chairman of the Minnesota Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, said it would instead create a “slippery slope” toward a registry of gun owners by expanding which gun sales and transfers go through a federally licensed dealer. Those dealers are required to keep records of who made a transaction and what firearm was purchased.

“Those records are forever,” Olson said, and though they aren’t currently collected by the federal government, he said Latz’s bill “greatly facilitates the occurrence in the future.”

Sen. Kathy Sheran compared the importance of performing background checks for gun sales to mammograms for breast cancer, noting that the frequent screenings seldom discover issues.

“But the outcome when it is there is very, very important,” the Mankato Democrat said.

Kevin Vick, a volunteer from the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus and Political Action Committee, rejected the comparison, saying: “When it comes to civil rights, the bar has to be much, much higher.”

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