DFL begins moving forward with gun control legislation
After swift early action on abortion and climate legislation, Democrats are starting work on another of their priorities: creating new laws aimed at curbing gun violence.
ST. PAUL — Minnesota Democrats, now fully in charge of state government, have been moving bills through the Legislature at a pace not seen in recent memory, with the governor already signing several bills into law since the session started last month.
After swift early action on abortion and climate legislation, they’re starting work on another of their priorities: creating new laws aimed at curbing gun violence. They’re starting with four gun safety proposals and bills designed to keep guns out of the hands of people who pose a risk to the public. Those include a red flag law, expanded background checks for firearms sales, a locking requirement, and a requirement to promptly report lost or stolen firearms.
“The basic idea behind several, really behind all of them, I suppose, is to say look: If we've decided that somebody has shown that they are going to be a significant danger, then we want to make sure that we're doing more to keep guns out of their hands,” said Dave Pinto, a St. Paul Democrat sponsoring the background checks legislation.
The House Public Safety Committee was scheduled to hear the bills Friday, Feb. 3., which Pinto, a Ramsey County prosecutor, called reasonable proposals that would not place Minnesota in a stricter category of gun regulation than many other states.
“These proposals are in use in the states around the country. ... Minnesota is not breaking new ground here,” he said. “We kind of pride ourselves in often pioneering innovative public policy. This ain’t it. This is basic stuff.”
Rob Doar with the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, a prominent Minnesota gun rights lobbying group, said the background check proposal would place undue burdens on routine activities of law-abiding gun owners, such as loaning or trading firearms. He also said there were "significant due process concerns" with a red flag law, which would allow law enforcement to obtain permission from a judge to seize firearms from a person deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Gov. Tim Walz in his public safety budget recommendations called on lawmakers to pass several gun control policies, including a red flag law, universal background checks, magazine capacity limits, and restrictions on semiautomatic rifle sales to anyone under 21. There’s also a push to ban guns from the Minnesota Capitol, where people with state-issued permits to carry have been able to possess firearms since 2015. While no magazine capacity limit bill has been introduced this session, there is a bill to prohibit guns at the Capitol.
Here’s a breakdown of the gun control bills that have started to get hearings:
Red flag bill
A “red flag” bill would allow law enforcement and family members to petition a court to temporarily ban someone from possessing firearms if they pose a significant risk to themselves or others. It would create an "extreme risk protection order" that law enforcement, household or family members, city or county attorneys, or guardians could obtain. The petitioner would have to file a statement under oath stating specific facts as to why an individual was a danger. The orders would last six months and up to two years.
A bill in the House would require background checks for private sales of firearms like pistols and semi-automatic rifles in Minnesota. Transfers between immediate family members and those involving a firearms dealer or law enforcement would be exempted. Both parties involved in a sale would have to present a valid transfer permit or permit to carry and government ID for a transfer. Owners would have to present a record of transfer upon request of a law officer investigating a crime.
There’s a safe gun storage bill in the House and Senate that would require firearms to be stored unloaded with a locking device and separate from the ammunition. A gun lock would be required during firearm transfers.
Reporting missing or stolen firearms
Another bill would require a gun owner to report a missing or stolen firearm within 48 hours of learning it was missing. Violation of the law would be a petty misdemeanor for the first offense, with increasing penalties for subsequent violations. Reporting the missing firearm would grant immunity from state laws related to safe firearms storage.
Chiefs of law enforcement agencies would be required to report stolen and missing firearms to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
It’s likely gun control legislation will pass in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Melissa Hortman says the issue is a priority for the session. The House in recent years has passed a background check and a red flag bill, while the previously Republican-controlled Senate did not take up such bills.
But it remains to be seen how the measures will fare in the Senate, where Democrats recently won a narrow one-seat majority and now split the chamber with Republicans 34-33. Whether it’s abortion, legalizing marijuana or gun control, Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic has been cautious to overpromise on any bill that didn’t have a chance when Republicans controlled the Senate.
The DFL Senate majority was unified in its support of a bill codifying abortion rights into state law. Though on the guns issue, observers of Minnesota politics say some DFL senators representing rural areas may have to weigh their votes carefully.
“There are seats where, if they come out and they vote for some kind of gun reform or whatever that legislation is, in their districts, those are votes that can kill,” said David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor.
DFL Sens. Rob Kupec of Moorhead, and Grant Hauschild of Hermantown, both representing largely rural districts in the north of the state, have generally avoided any major commitments to gun control proposals.
Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email firstname.lastname@example.org.