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Even In Blue Minnesota, Gun Control Seems A Tough Sell

Gun rights advocate Andy Cers of Minneapolis listens to testimony during a Minnesota House hearing on bills dealing with gun violence on Tuesday in St. Paul.

Supporters of gun control laws await President Obama's appearance on Monday outside the Minneapolis Police Department's Special Operations Center.

Minnesota has a Democratic governor, two Democratic senators, and Democrats control both houses of its Legislature. So it may have come as no surprise when President Obama went there earlier this week to rally support for his proposals to reduce gun violence.

But even in politically blue Minnesota, there's considerable resistance to placing further restrictions on gun ownership.

During his visit to a Minneapolis police facility Monday, Obama urged Minnesotans to find common ground in curbing gun violence.

"We don't have to agree on everything to agree it's time to do something," he said. "That's my main message here today."

And that message would appear to have gotten through. Hundreds of Minnesotans in heavy winter wraps squeezed into a hot state Capitol building on Tuesday. It was the first of three days of hearings on about a dozen bills, all aimed at reducing gun violence.

Many in the crowd sported big yellow buttons that proclaimed "Self Defense Is A Human Right." As St. Paul Democrat Michael Paymar opened the hearing of the House Public Safety Committee, he acknowledged the atmosphere was tense.

"I recognize that this is a very emotional and complex issue, whenever you're talking about gun control or gun violence," he said. "I understand the concerns that some gun owners have about some of these bills."

As Paymar brought up a bill closing loopholes in background checks for gun buyers, a 17-year-old boy spoke from the witness stand.

"Nothing prepares you to hear the news that your father has been murdered with a gun," said Sami Rahamim. Last September, an employee who'd just been fired at his father's sign company in Minneapolis shot Reuven Rahamim and five others dead, using a semiautomatic Glock pistol loaded with a 15-round magazine.

"I want my story told, so that other families will not have to go through the devastation that mine has experienced," Sami Rahamim said. "My dad lived the American dream but died the American nightmare."

Law enforcement groups also back tougher gun laws.

"We are not doing enough to protect the citizens of our state from gun violence," said Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. "We're not doing enough to prevent people who for a host of reasons simply should not possess a handgun from getting them. We're not stopping them."

That comment clearly agitated Tony Cornish, a Republican from rural Good Thunder, Minn., who wore an AK-47 pin on his lapel and a red tie emblazoned with the seal of the National Rifle Association.

"We aren't doing enough because the legislators won't let us do enough," Cornish said. "If we want to arm teachers, we want to have armed security guards, we want to put a shooter in the scene that can actually do something, legislatures are saying no and pretending these worthless gun bills are going to do any good, which they don't."

Cornish was backed up by Joseph Olson, president of Minnesota's Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance. Olson warned no good will come from requiring all gun sales to be registered.

"Every place we have seen registration -- in Australia, in the United Kingdom, for example -- when registration comes, confiscation doesn't come far behind it," Olson argued.

Outside the hearing room, police officer Jeffrey Ahrens of Brainerd said people in big cities simply don't get why rural Minnesotans need guns for protection.

"People out in the country do tend to recognize that -- more so than people in the city -- that they are always going to be the first ones there if and when ... a criminal decides to make them the target of their affection," he said.

Minneapolis resident John Harrisville wore a sticker with the words "Minnesotans Against Being Shot." He said it's the gun enthusiasts who don't get it.

"They're at risk of being further inconvenienced as opposed to, on the other side of the argument, people staying alive," he said. "I don't care if you're inconvenienced. If you have to jump through a few more hoops to get that gun, I don't care."

It's not clear how all this will end. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who faces re-election next year, has said he won't sign any gun law package unless it's supported by the state's rural lawmakers.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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