Your questions about gun control in Minnesota, answered

El Paso and Dayton shootings have revived questions about gun control laws

Mark O'Connor fills out his federal background check paperwork.
A man fills out his federal background check paperwork as he purchases a handgun at the K&W Gunworks store in Delray Beach, Fla., in January 2016
Joe Raedle | Getty Images 2016

Two recent shootings in Texas and Ohio prompted Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to put the pressure on lawmakers to take action on stalled gun legislation prior to next year’s session.

Here are a few answers to several questions we’ve received from Minnesotans about the process of passing new legislation and where gun control currently stands in the state.

What type of “executive action” could the Walz administration take immediately, without involving the state Legislature? And could Gov. Walz call a special session to deal with policy issues only and not budgetary (i.e. a gun safety session)? — Heather

While the governor isn’t without options, Walz said on Monday that he doesn't want to take executive action on this issue and feels his power in that regard is limited.

“I think it’s best to build coalitions,” he said. “And I trust the heart of, certainly, Sen. Gazelka and I have worked closely together and I’ve asked to try and bring us back together, let’s try to do a hearing, let’s try and air some of this where we can find common ground.”

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Walz added he would only call a special session if there was agreement among lawmakers that it would be productive.

Only governors have the power to call special sessions but lawmakers get to determine when they end. So, governors usually don't like to go into them without a set agenda and firm bill parameters.

Gun propositions often start off with an uphill climb and it’s been years since any kind of gun measure passed in Minnesota. The most recent was in 2014 as part of the “Domestic Abuse Act.” It bans gun ownership among those who are subject to domestic abuse and child abuse protective orders. It also allows courts to order convicted abusers transfer any firearms they own to a federally licensed dealer, law enforcement agency or an eligible third party.

Can Minnesota ban assault weapons? Or does it have to be a federal mandate? — Leslie

It is possible — a few other states have banned or restricted the ownership and use of assault weapons. There are a few firearm bans already on the books in Minnesota — but not an assault weapons ban per se.

Anyone in possession of or operating a machine gun, any trigger activator, machine gun conversion kit or a short-barreled shotgun could face up to five years in jail, a maximum fine of $10,000 or both.

Exceptions to the ban on machine guns and short-barreled shot guns include law enforcement, members of the armed forces and ammo manufacturers that use the weapons only for testing. Read more about that statute here. There are also laws concerning the proper storage of firearms and removal or alteration of a firearm’s serial number.

An assault weapons ban has seen some support in Minnesota, but has recently taken a back seat to proposals for “red flag” laws and expanded background checks. Part of the problem is defining what an assault weapon is. Click here to read how Minnesota defines them.

Has there been any thought on requiring gun owners (myself included) to hold liability insurance, and recertifying our proficiency on a yearly basis? — Michel

Civil liability proposals have been introduced but have not advanced over the years.

In recent proposals around the U.S., the insurance would cover any losses the firearm purchaser might experience following accidents and acts of self-defense. Much like car or home insurance, not all accidents or incidents would be covered — and intentional, criminal actions, of course, would not be covered.

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, also known as the “Child Safety Lock Act,” does protect firearms manufacturers and dealers from civil liability in lawsuits.

How can universal background checks work without first creating a statewide gun registry? — Michael

It would take some a fair amount of collaboration between private sellers and licensed dealers.

When lawmakers talk about “universal background checks” they’re referring to the federal checks already required of licensed firearms retailers and gun stores.

So, requiring those checks for private sales would also require setting up a system by which anyone could perform those checks. In some proposals, that takes the form of private sellers first transferring the firearm to a licensed dealer so they can request the background check.

Those checks are performed by the National Instant Check System, or NICS. When someone purchases a firearm from a licensed dealer, the NICS searches its database to confirm the buyer is eligible to own a firearm. If it’s determined they are, the NICS informs the dealer and is then required to destroy any records of their search within 24 hours.

However, in several states the dealer is required to keep record of the transaction for a length of time — sometimes up to 20 years. The government can access those records as part of criminal investigations, during compliance inspections or if the business closes down.

If universal background checks were required, in theory, the same process would be applied to private sellers — so while there would be record of every gun transaction, it would not be in a searchable database that the government or public could access. Instead, the information would live only in the records of the individual who sold the firearm.

Do you have other questions you want us to answer? Let us know