Minnesota lawmakers advance universal background checks on gun sales, 'red flag' bill
DFL lawmakers are advancing a proposal that would temporarily remove guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
ST. PAUL — In the wake of a deadly school shooting this week in Nashville, new gun restrictions are moving forward in the Minnesota Legislature after years of stalling under a divided government.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers now in control of the Senate and House are advancing a proposal to create universal background checks for firearms sales and want to create a “red-flag” law to temporarily remove guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. Supporters say they'll help keep guns out of dangerous people's hands.
Those are just two gun control measures DFLers introduced this legislative session. But as committees prepare their major policy package bills, known as omnibus bills, those proposals appear to be gaining the most momentum, with both the Senate and the House moving them through committees.
As a lawful gun owner myself, neither of those things infringe on my Second Amendment rights.
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. Walz said he wants to do more to regulate firearms, but on Wednesday said the two measures gaining the most momentum were important steps in a better direction.
“These two are proven, measurable things,” he told reporters. “As a lawful gun owner myself, neither of those things infringe on my Second Amendment rights.”
Under the “red flag” law proposal, family members could 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 other is a bill to expand background checks for firearms sales. It 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.
Gun rights proponents question the constitutionality of red-flag laws and whether police should be able to take a person's guns away through a court order. They argue universal background checks would place undue burdens on routine activities of law-abiding gun owners, such as loaning or trading firearms.
The House Public Safety Committee on Tuesday heard a more than $2 billion public safety omnibus with the two gun control provisions and is expected to take it up Thursday. House leadership said it intends to move forward with its big budget and policy bills after lawmakers return from the Legislative spring break on April 10.
Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River, the lead Republican on the House Public Safety Committee, said the measures targeted law-abiding gun owners and called for Democrats to address violent crime by addressing its root causes.
“It is incredibly disappointing that Democrats are burying these controversial gun control bills deep inside a 312-page omnibus package,” said Novotny. “If Democrats want to pass legislation that strips away the constitutional rights of law-abiding Minnesotans, then they should have the courage to debate these issues on their own merits as standalone bills.”
Gun control in the Senate
After Republicans lost control of the Senate in the last election, gun control measures are moving forward in that chamber now as well. Last week, the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee approved three measures: a red flag bill, expanded background checks, and increased penalties for machine gun possession. Those bills were referred to the finance committee and could end up getting passed in a senate public safety package.
While both the DFL-controlled Senate and House have reached a general framework on budget and policy priorities, it's possible their big public safety bills packages will have differences that lawmakers from each chamber will have to hammer out in a conference committee. In other words, much is left to be done before any gun control bill can make it to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
House Democrats have a 70-64 majority over Republicans and they’ve passed gun control legislation in recent years. But even though there’s a Democratic majority in the Senate, it’s slim. With a 34-33 split, just one Democrat joining Republicans could prevent gun control from moving forward.
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.
In a past statement, Hauschild has said he grew up hunting with his family and learned about the importance of gun safety, but did not offer comments specific to any gun control proposals.
“I'm taking time to meet with law enforcement, stakeholders, and constituents in my district to hear their concerns and determine how we move forward,” he said. “Pressure on me from outside groups on either side will not determine my position, thoughtful conversations with my constituents will."
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