Minnesota House advances gun control measures

ST. PAUL — Members of the Minnesota House on Wednesday night, April 26, approved a public safety package that includes two gun control proposals.

Universal background checks and “red-flag” court orders to temporarily remove guns from people deemed an imminent threat to themselves or others are another step closer to becoming Minnesota law.

“We tackle gun violence head-on in this bill,” House Public Safety Chair Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, told reporters ahead of the floor debate. “These are common sense measures that our constituents for years have been telling us that they want.”

Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers say the rules are necessary for keeping guns out of the wrong hands, but opponents say they unfairly burden law-abiding gun owners and threaten the right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

After hours of debate on the bill that started Tuesday night and resumed Wednesday afternoon, the House safety package and the gun control proposals passed 69-60 nearly on party lines.

Iron Range Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, joined Republicans in opposing the bill.

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. Law enforcement and prosecutors could also obtain the orders. 

With universal background checks, private sales of firearms like pistols and semi-automatic rifles would require more paperwork. Both parties involved in a sale would have to present a valid transfer permit or permit to carry and government ID. Law enforcement agencies would issue the permits.

Owners would have to present a record of transfer upon request of a law officer investigating a crime.

Transfers between immediate family members and those involving a firearms dealer or law enforcement would be exempted.

House Public Safety Committee Republican lead Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River, said the background checks bill would create obstacles for law-abiding gun owners and said a better approach would be to more strictly enforce existing restrictions on gun transfers to ineligible people like felons. He also questioned the constitutional implications of the proposed red flag law.

“The proposal violates due process and does not address the alleged safety risk of the individual,” he said at a Tuesday news conference. “The seizure of property without a warrant and due process, especially property that is protected by the Second Amendment, violates civil rights. Our efforts should be focused on providing support and care to those in crisis.” 

The Senate passed a public safety package earlier this month on a 34-33 party-line vote that contains funding for gun control but not the red flag or background check policies. The House and Senate will now have to iron out those differences in a conference committee before they can vote on a final bill they can send to the governor.

After years of stalling in a government divided between DFL and Republican control, prospects for new gun laws look brighter than before. But it’s no guarantee the bills will become law.

While gun control legislation is a priority for DFL legislative leaders and DFL Gov. Tim Walz, its chances in the Senate are not as clear as they are in the House. Democrats have a one-seat majority over Republicans in that chamber, and two Democrats from rural northern districts have not committed full support to gun control legislation.

The red flag and universal background checks bill are just two pieces of gun legislation Democrats introduced this session, though they are the only policies that have come this far. Other proposals, including magazine capacity limits and raising the age to buy semi-automatic firearms, are not included in the public safety package.

Asked last month if the thin majority played into the narrower set of gun control proposals, Senate Public Safety Committee Chair Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said his caucus didn’t want to “want to be in a position of biting off more than we can chew.”

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Alex Derosier

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.

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