ST. PAUL (AP) -- Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bob Lessard said he will try to block any bill that uses hunting permits to check for convicted felons with guns.
Lessard, DFL-International Falls, said he does not want guns in the hands of felons, but he doesn't believe the Department of Natural Resources should bear the responsibility of running checks.
''How do you get at it without trampling on people's rights?'' he said. ''It's a horrendous, complicated problem. I don't know what the answer is, but it's not going after the hunters.''
Lessard's remarks came in response to a Saint Paul Pioneer Press investigation that revealed that at least 236 convicted felons were granted hunting permits last year, even though state and federal law prohibit them from owning, using or carrying firearms.
Rep. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, has drafted a bill that would require permit applicants to sign a statement certifying they are not prohibited from possessing a gun. If they refused to sign, they would be denied a permit.
Lessard and others say the bill likely won't pass because they don't believe adding a statement to the permit will adequately address the problem of felons using guns.
At issue is not whether convicted criminals are hunting illegally in Minnesota; it is whether persons who committed violent crimes have access to weapons they could use to commit other offenses.
As the law now stands, felons may not own firearms, but they can get a hunting permit. Some felons told the newspaper they violated no laws, saying they purchased hunting licenses only so friends could shoot game for them. DNR officials, however, said they suspect most felons licensed to hunt are using firearms.
Key House and Senate lawmakers all say felons should be barred from hunting with firearms, but the lawmakers can't seem to agree on how to prohibit it.
House Crime Prevention Chairman Rich Stanek, R-Maple Grove, said he does not support a law banning felons from getting hunting permits.
He said that with electronic licensing, the DNR or the Department of Public Safety should cross-check their data and investigate felons who are discovered with hunting licenses.
DNR officials have said it would not be practical for them to investigate hundreds of felons who may or may not possess weapons.
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