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Special Report: Assault Weapon Debate

Posted at: 02/07/2013 7:13 PM
By: Brittany Lewis

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- A ban on assault weapons is one bill being debated at the gun hearings at the capitol. Both sides have very strong feelings. 

Supporters of the ban say these weapons are becoming the weapon of choice in mass shootings. They say the weapons made for combat and don’t have a place on the streets. Opponents say although the weapons may look dangerous, when placed in the right hands, they aren’t.

“I love that they say military style because it really gets to the heart that it is a fashion choice, it has nothing to do with the performance,” said Andrew Rothman, Vice President of Gun Owner’s Civil Rights Alliance.

Perhaps nothing in the past month has caused more discussion or sparked as much debate as semi-automatic military style assault weapons. The weapons have staunch opponents.

“I think you can’t deny that an assault weapon can fire off more rounds accurately, than any other type of weapons,” said Heather Martens, Executive Director of Protect Minnesota an organization working to end gun violence.

Others are more comfortable with them, so comfortable, they let their nine-year-old take a shot.

Minnesota currently lists seventeen weapons under the subcategory of semi-automatic military style assault weapons. On that list is the AR-15. The weapon was used in both the Colorado movie theater shooting in which 12 were killed, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where 20 elementary school students were killed as well as six of their teachers.

The AR-15 is also one of the most popular selling rifles in the country.

“Why would an average person want a gun like this? For the same reason that someone would want a sports car. It’s great to drive. It’s accurate and responsive like a sports car and it’s reliable,” said Rothman.

“What we’re doing this session is we’re talking about number one getting weapons of combat off the streets,” said Martens.

Martens provided Vice President Joe Biden with recommendations for his gun violence task force and presented a bill for an assault weapons ban in Minnesota to the State House and Finance Committee on Wednesday.

“We have a gun violence problem in this country and to do nothing about it, to try no preventive measures and say nothing can be prevented you just have to wait ‘til somebody starts shooting and then try to shoot them is not a reasonable policy. It’s not effective and it’s not acceptable,” said Martens.

The bill, House File 241, would make it a crime to manufacture, transfer, or possess certain semi-automatic military style assault weapons. The term, assault weapon, would be defined as a semi-automatic rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine, has a pistol grip or thumbhole stock, a folding stock or a shroud attached to the barrel, among other components.

Those that owned an assault weapon prior to February 1st, would have to submit to a background check, register the weapon, store the weapon based on regulations created by law enforcement, allow an inspection of that storage, and annually renew the registration. Supporters of the bill say these weapons are made for combat, not for the streets. Opponents say the bill infringes on the Second Amendment.

“Why do you claim that it’s only for killing people, it’s actually a great weapon for self-defense,” said Republican Representative Tony Cornish.
“This is a rifle, this is a sporting rifle. Uh, an assault weapon is a knife or a hammer or a baseball bat or a gun that you use to hurt somebody. This is a sporting rifle. We use it for sporting purposes. We use it for self-defense,” said Rothman.

“Semi-automatic handguns commit less murders than hammers or fists,” said Republican Representative Mike Benson.

Prior to this week’s hearings, I invited local legislators to discuss what, if anything, Minnesota was doing to ban semi-automatic military style assault weapons.

“If there’s a federal law on certain weapons that ban will be effective in Minnesota and Minnesota won’t have to act in those areas. It’s only where the federal government doesn’t act that we may or not fill in the gaps,” said Democrat Representative Tina Liebling.

“I think it’s safe to say there won’t’ be any legislation to take guns away from anyone, I don’t think that is at all a real fear, might there be some changes, there might,” said Democrat Representative Kim Norton.

“I wanna be very cautious. I wouldn’t be in favor of any legislation at this point that would restrict anything that would currently be or able to use and buy and sell in Minnesota,” said Benson.

“Basically it’s silly to try things that don’t work. If you look at Chicago, Washington, D.C., Detroit. They have a great deal of gun restrictions and also have very high murder rates,” said Republican Representative Duane Quam.

“It’s any rifle can do this kind of damage or for that matter any pistol can, any shotgun can. It’s not about the gun type it’s about how do we protect people in their space,” said Republican Senator Dave Senjem.

“Minnesota’s a very strong right to bear arms state. We believe in the second amendment. We value the individual right to be able to carry arms,” said Democrat Representative Jeanne Poppe.

Future discussion on any type of assault weapon ban will continue later this month. Until then, both sides will continue the debate.