Politics and Government

‘Red flag’ gun removal orders become new option in Minnesota in 2024

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

Beginning next week, there is a new pathway for petitioning Minnesota judges to temporarily remove a person’s firearms if they’re believed to pose a risk to others or are at significant risk of suicide.

They’re officially called Extreme Risk Protection Orders, often referred to as a “red flag” law. 

The policy takes effect on Jan. 1 after the DFL-led Legislature approved and Gov. Tim Walz authorized it earlier this year.

Groups that pushed for the law change said it could help prevent gun violence. They pointed to states that have passed similar measures where rates of firearm-related suicides dropped. Meanwhile, gun rights advocates said the policy could abridge Second Amendment rights.

Here’s a look at how the law works.

How does someone seek an extreme risk protection order?

Under the policy, certain people can petition a court for an order to temporarily remove a person’s firearms. The request can be made by a spouse, ex-spouse or a person involved in a relationship; a parent, child, guardian or individual living with a person; or a member of law enforcement or a city or county attorney.

There are two forms of the protection orders. The first is an emergency order, which would take immediate effect and last 14 days. The second — a long-term order — could span between six months and a year. Unlike the emergency order, it would only take effect after a hearing.

How does an order get enforced?

Law enforcement agencies note that each of these situations is going to be resolved on a case-by-case basis, so it depends.

Officers could go to someone’s dwelling, present the order and remove the firearms. Minnesota police and sheriffs groups have said they’re training for these interactions now and will continue into early next year.

The law also spells out that the individual named in the order could hand the firearms over to a family member or someone who has a federal firearms license and can hold the guns for them.

Who pushed for this change?

Mental health advocates, survivors of domestic violence and some police groups urged the change. They say it could curb gun-related violence, especially suicide deaths.

“There’s certainly a lot of things in play as to why we have gun violence or gun deaths and this isn’t going to solve all of them. But we do think it can help particularly in the area of suicide by gun fire or gunshot,” said Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. The group supported the policy change at the Capitol.

“It’s definitely going to be a tool that can be used to help people that are in crisis that have access to firearms, and temporarily separate them from those firearms,” he continued.

Sue Abderholden, executive director of the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI Minnesota, echoed those comments. She said family members could feel more comfortable filing for an order since the orders won’t be made public.

“We’re hoping that it will at least do something to prevent further suicides,” Abderholden said.

DFLers in the Legislature have tried to pass a “red flag” law for years. But they came up short due to divided control in the statehouse. With slim majorities at the Capitol this year, they were able to get it across the finish line.

Who opposed the change?

Gun rights groups and other law enforcement organizations voiced concerns about the policy and said that it could deprive Minnesotans of Second Amendment rights.

Rob Doar, senior vice president of government affairs with the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said it could set up situations where gun owners have firearms removed without getting a chance to argue their case.

“What we’re talking about with the ex-parte orders is essentially an order being issued with one side of the story. And it’s a very low burden of proof that’s needed in order for the judge to reach that issue,” Doar said.

“Our concern is something that we’ve seen in other states where we're orders that are issued with very thin or sometimes no evidence at all, just somebody’s own testimony that that is sufficient enough to deprive somebody of a fundamental, constitutionally protected right.”

Doar said that implementing an emergency mental-health hold on a person believed to be in crisis could be more effective than removing their firearms.

Does information from other states with similar laws bear out a concrete impact?

With Minnesota, 21 states and the District of Columbia now have some version of an extreme-risk gun law.

Studies in states that have similar policies tracked a decrease in suicide deaths by firearm after the laws took effect. 

But because these laws are relatively new and affect a relatively small number of people each year, researchers say more information is needed to draw conclusions about causation versus correlation.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a crisis, call or text 988, Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or text MN to 741741. If you or a loved one is at imminent risk, please contact 911 and ask for a Crisis Intervention Team officer.