New gun measures headed to Walz’s desk

A gathering outside of the state capitol building.
Gov. Tim Walz speaks at a Moms Demand Action rally outside the Minnesota State Capitol on April 25.
Matthew Alvarez | MPR News file

A $3.3 billion public safety and judiciary budget bill, which includes a pair of gun control measures, is on its way to the governor’s office for a signature after the Minnesota House of Representatives on Monday passed it on a 69-63 vote.

After an eight-hour debate, all but one Democrat in the chamber voted to advance the bill while Republicans and Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, opposed it. The plan would make Minnesota the 20th state to enact what are known as red flag protections aimed at removing firearms from those deemed a danger to themselves or others. It would also expand criminal background checks to private transfers of firearms.

The gun provisions of the bill had long faced a roadblock at the Capitol under divided government and gun control advocates on Monday said the vote broke down that roadblock and would prevent some gun-related homicides and suicides.

“These provisions are saving lives in other states that have them. They’re in use well in other states,” Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, said. “They’re very popular with Minnesotans because we know they do in fact save lives.” 

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Under the proposals, more firearm sales would be subject to background checks and allow for temporary removal of guns from people in crisis. Groups that had pressed lawmakers for years to pass the measures on Tuesday celebrated the step toward the bills becoming law in Minnesota

“Today we're honoring the Minnesotan lives stolen by gun violence with action that will help save others and prevent senseless tragedies,” Angela Ferrell-Zabala, executive director of he group Moms Demand Action, said. 

Opponents, including gun rights groups and Republicans, said the measures would deprive lawful gun owners of their rights and wouldn’t get to the heart of gun-related crimes.

Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, spoke against the expanded background checks.

“You're not going to change the behavior of somebody who is already intent on committing a crime. What you're doing is violating the Second Amendment,” Nash said. “And I don't know whether this will or will not be challenged in court. I'm sure that there will be some challenges. But the bigger challenge is this. That is not going to do what you hope it does.” 

The gun rights group Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus said after the vote that it would closely watch the laws’ implementation and consider possible legal actions.

“Protecting law-abiding gun owners is our mission and our duty,” said Rob Doar, senior vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus. “We will not be dismayed or dissuaded by the passage of new legislation.”

Gov. Tim Walz has said he supports the bill and will sign it into law soon. The measure appropriates about $880 million more than current budget levels for public safety, judiciary and corrections programs.

“As a veteran, gun-owner, hunter, and dad, I know that basic gun safety isn’t a threat to the Second Amendment. It’s about our first responsibility to our kids: Keeping them safe,” Walz said on Twitter. “When the bill reaches my desk, I’m going to sign a red flag law and background checks into law.”

The broader public safety bill would also:

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

  • Expand youth intervention and restorative programs with the aim of changing the direction of young people before they commit more-severe crimes. 

  • Rework 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.

  • Allow 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.

  • Include 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.

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

  • Ensure 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.

  • Fund police recruitment, given a shortage of licensed officers.