Walz signs ‘red flag’ orders, universal background checks for guns into law

a group of politicians gather in front of a podium
Fmr. Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, in the grey blazer, and others celebrated as Gov. Tim Walz signed a public safety budget bill that includes new gun measures on Friday.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Gov. Tim Walz Friday signed into law a sweeping public safety and judiciary budget bill that creates two new restrictions on firearm possession and sales.

In a Capitol reception room packed with gun control advocates, lawmakers, survivors of gun violence and others, the second-term DFL governor credited the DFL trifecta for getting the bills across the finish line. And he said the measures will make Minnesota a safer place to live.

“I understand our rights as Americans to do these things. But I refuse to allow extremists to define what responsible gun ownership looks like and to make this about the Second Amendment,” Walz said. “This is not about the Second Amendment. This is about the safety of our children in our communities.”

The plan makes Minnesota the 20th state to enact what are known as red flag protections designed to remove firearms from those deemed a danger to themselves or others. It also expands criminal background checks to private transfers of firearms.

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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.

Under the proposals, more firearm sales will be subject to background checks and it will be easier for concerned family members and law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from people in crisis. 

“After every mass shooting, the airwaves are filled with thoughts and prayers. And with the follow up phrase, which is, ‘It's too emotional, too hard right now, now's not the time to talk about legislative solutions,’” Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-Saint Louis Park, said. “Is there ever a right time, if not in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, that identifies for all of us the need for those legislative solutions? Well, here, right now, the time is now.”

Gun rights advocates mounted strong opposition to the measures as they moved through the Capitol and they said the laws will not address the underlying issues that spur gun violence. 

“The impact of these laws will only be felt by peaceable gun owners, who are being imposed with unreasonable barriers to the free exercise of a Constitutionally protected right,” said Rob Doar, senior vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus.

Minnesota police chiefs, public health officials, mental health groups and survivors of gun violence urged the bills’ passage. And they said the state could keep rewriting its laws around firearms to reduce instances of gun violence.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage. The courage to do what's right,” former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords said. “Now is the time to come together, be responsible. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, we must never stop. Fight, fight, fight, fight. Be bold. Be courageous. The nation counting on you.”

The broader public safety law will also:

  • Boost funding for Minnesota courts to improve courtroom technology and 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 serious crimes. 

  • Rework the pardons process so decisions of the three-person panel — the governor, attorney general and Supreme Court chief justice — won’t have to be unanimous. The governor will 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 will 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.

  • The law will also create the first in the nation Office of Missing and Murdered African American Women and Girls. It will be similar to the state’s Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.