MN Senate passes new gun restrictions

A gathering outside of the state capitol building.
A pair of gun restrictions would expand background checks to more sales and allow for temporary removal of guns from people in crisis.
Matthew Alvarez | MPR News

Updated 11:44 p.m.

Two long-proposed gun law changes moved toward final approval Friday as part of a public safety budget package that majority Democrats expected to have to muscle through without Republican support.

The Senate passed the bill Friday night after a long debate and sent it to the House for a final vote there. The Senate vote was 34-33, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans against.

The pair of gun restrictions expanding background checks to more sales and allowing for temporary removal of guns from people in crisis faced opposition from Senate Republicans and raised doubts about whether the bill would get the support of every Senate Democrat. But the bill was also getting pushback over the possibility some people in prison could get out sooner, language about bias-motivated crimes and altered procedures around pardons.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who helped write the bill, expressed confidence in its passage. He said the gun changes are long overdue.

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“These proposals on the background check will identify the people who are under existing law are not eligible to possess firearms. The only way to find out who they are is to put them through a background check,” he said.

A man stands in front of a drawing of the Minnesota Capitol
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Of the extreme risk protection orders, commonly called a red flag law, Latz said: “We're separating the people who at that moment in time are not in a good place to possess firearms from the guns themselves.”

Republicans tried unsuccessfully to send the bill back to a conference committee.

Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, said he expects rural sheriffs would refuse to carry out the red flag law, but he said the bill sent the wrong message regardless.

"In a democracy, the majority rules, and that's what has been proven to us this session. If a majority wants to take your bike, they can take it or in this case, if they want to take your gas-powered car, they can take it. Today it's your guns, tomorrow it's your Zamboni or your gas stove or whatever is decided to be the demon of the day."

There would be two kinds of revocation orders. One would allow petitions for emergency removal of guns from people known to be an imminent threat to themselves or others, which could result in a judicial order before the subject is alerted of the request. The other would establish a hearing process that could involve the gun owner but still lead to forfeiture for at least six months and up to a year.

The background check expansion would apply to private transfers at gun shows or between people who connect in other ways. The buyer would have to have a valid permit to purchase; permits would be effective for a year and cover an indefinite number of purchases.

There are exceptions for transfers within a family or temporary loans to somebody in a hunting party or on a gun range.

Attention was squarely on a small set of first-term senators who were under pressure on both ends of the debate. But a couple had declared their intention to vote for the bill since the final language emerged.

"In Greater Minnesota, the Second Amendment is everything. The rest of this bill is secondary. The Second Amendment is everything, as I see it. The metro members are willing to sacrifice the rural members," Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, warned his DFL colleagues from rural areas. "I don't have to name names of the members, you know, whose districts are solid, solid, Second Amendment areas. Think about it. Your constituents are counting on you."

One of those Greater Minnesota Democrats, Sen. Rob Kupec of Moorhead, said the two gun measures won’t solve all problems, but he called them the least onerous of proposals entertained by legislative Democrats this year.

“There are a lot of people, even in Greater Minnesota, who want enhanced background checks,” Kupec said, adding it took him longer to get behind the extreme-risk orders.

Another rural Democrat, Sen. Grant Hauschild of Hermantown said he had been talking with many people in his district about what to do.

"Gun owners want nothing more than to reduce gun violence" Hauschild said, adding, “We should always do everything in our power to keep our loved ones safe.”

Fellow first-term Sen. Nicole Mitchell, DFL-Woodbury, was more forceful in her appraisal.

“I care more about children than guns. I will say that,” Mitchell said. “I want my children and everyone's children coming home alive. And if we can do anything to prevent even a couple of these shootings, we have done our work.”

Republicans have almost universally opposed the gun bills as they’ve moved along.

“We're obviously concerned about some of the firearms bills that are in there,” said Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River, while also objecting to the omission of a proposed change that would have required judges to impose mandatory prison time for certain violent crimes where a gun was involved.

Among the other things the bill does:

  • Boosts funding for Minnesota courts to improve courtroom technology, raise salaries of judicial branch workers and legal aid programs.

  • Expands youth intervention and restorative programs with the aim of changing the direction of young people before they commit more-severe crimes. “Youth intervention specifically has just such an astounding high return on investment,” said Sen. Clare Oumuo Verbeten, DFL-St. Paul. “And we know it really improves public safety and prevents crime in the future.”

  • Reworks the pardons process so decisions of the three-person panel — the governor, attorney general and Supreme Court chief justice — wouldn’t have to be unanimous. The governor would have to be part of any vote where a pardon is awarded.

  • Allows prison inmates to shave time off their incarceration by participating in rehabilitative, substance abuse or educational programs while behind bars. The credits couldn’t cut their prison time to less than half but it could mean inmates serve less than the standard two-thirds of a sentence in custody before supervised release is permitted.

  • Includes gender identity, gender expression or perception of those in the definition of bias-motivated assault when the crime is believed to be driven by those factors.

  • Limits the use of no-knock search warrants by police and changing the protocol for how they would be conducted should a judge issue one.

  • Ensures that families of people killed by police get access within five days to body camera footage, with the requirement that it be released to the general public within two weeks.

  • Has funding for police recruitment given a shortage of licensed officers.