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Norton unveils bills to toughen gun laws

All Minnesotans wanting to buy a handgun or a military-style assault rifle would be required to undergo background checks under a bill proposed by Rep. Kim Norton.

All Minnesotans wanting to buy a handgun or a semi-automatic, military-style assault rifle would be required to undergo background checks under a bill proposed by Rep. Kim Norton.

The Rochester Democrat announced on Thursday she is sponsoring three bills aimed at reducing gun violence. Norton is seeking to extend the waiting period for certain gun purchases and wants to require all gun purchasers to undergo firearms training.

"Surveys show that the vast majority of people — rural and urban — support reasonable restrictions, and I think that is what I've tried to provide here," Norton said.

But gun rights supporters blasted Norton's plan, saying it won't do anything to stop gun violence.

"The vast majority of gun violence comes from criminals who are shooting criminals, so when you are passing laws that are focused on restricting access to guns, criminals by definition aren't going to follow them," said Rob Doar, political director for the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus .

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Concerned about deaths

In an interview, Norton said she has become increasingly concerned about the number of gun-related deaths in the country — especially suicides. Approximately 60 percent of gun-related deaths in the country are suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"When I saw the data about how many of our national gun deaths were suicide, I just found that absolutely startling," she said.

One of Norton's bills would require universal background checks for people buying handguns or semi-automatic, military-style assault rifles. Norton said the goal is to make sure that no matter where someone buys a gun — whether it's at a gun show or online — a background check is being done first.

"You can't just sell to someone on the street corner without making sure that person on the street corner isn't a felon," she said.

Norton also wants to extend the waiting period for people buying handguns and military-style assault rifles from seven days to 28 days. One of her bills would require people purchasing a gun to have completed firearm safety training within the past five years. It would also mandate that individuals have a gun lock before purchasing a firearm. Another bill she is backing would require the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to establish a voluntary gun buyback program.

Norton is also seeking criminal penalties for individuals who fail to comply with the training and gun lock requirements. An individual who falsifies a certificate of training to buy a gun could be charged with a felony. Owners who fail to check if a buyer has completed a firearm safety course could be charged with a misdemeanor. Anyone who sells a gun to an individual without verifying the buyer has a gun lock could also be charged with a misdemeanor.

Norton pre-filed her bills on Thursday. They will be introduced on the first day of the 2016 legislative session on March 8.

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To face uphill climb

The Rochester Democrat's gun proposals will likely face an uphill climb in the Republican-controlled House. Rep. Tony Cornish, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, said state lawmakers have recently supported efforts to loosen gun regulations — not tighten them.

"I'm not saying the bills won't be heard, but if they are heard, they would fall with a heavy thud, probably with almost no votes on the GOP side," Cornish said. "I see nothing in the bills that would prevent suicide, crime, mayhem or murder."

But supporters of tougher gun regulations welcomed Norton's proposals. Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota , said her advocacy group has long pushed for universal background checks. She noted a recent study that found after Missouri repealed a 2007 law requiring handgun buyers to undergo background checks, the number of gun-related homicides and suicides increased significantly.

"You can save many lives by simply requiring a criminal background check on somebody buying a gun," Martens said.

Norton said she realizes her bills will likely face strong opposition gun rights groups. Nonetheless, she said it's important that lawmakers debate these issues and have a chance to vote on them.

"We have not had the opportunity to really tackle the issue," she said. "I think we need to get past that. I think public safety is more important than a scorecard, even in an election year."

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