Minnesota lawmakers consider firearm reporting, storage requirements after Burnsville shooting

Police cars drive down a road
A procession of law enforcement and first responder vehicles escort the bodies of Burnsville Officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge to a funeral home in Jordan on Tuesday. Officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge, as well as firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, were killed on Sunday while responding to a domestic situation at a Burnsville home.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Advocates for tougher gun possession laws returned to the Capitol with new purpose Wednesday, touting passage of bills last year while citing recent incidents since in their call to do more.

Sunday’s fatal shooting of three first responders in Burnsville was top of mind as families affected by gun violence and the group Protect Minnesota put forward a slate of proposals. They range from seeking required alerts to authorities when guns go missing to ways to incentivize safe storage of firearms and ammunition.

The man who killed three first responders in Burnsville over the weekend wasn’t legally authorized to possess firearms. The incident exposed continuing gaps in the system.

While disagreements remain about the best path to preventing similar incidents, groups on opposing sides of the gun debate said they’re willing to hear the other out. 

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The discussion could lead to additional storage and reporting requirements for firearm owners and extra resources for first responders and domestic violence survivors.

Gun control advocates, families impacted by gun violence and DFL legislators urged passage of bills to require gun owners to report a firearm missing or stolen within 48 hours of learning that it’s gone. Failing to do so could result in petty misdemeanor penalties under the proposal. Repeat offenses would yield harsher penalties.

A woman embraces a child beside
A woman embraces a child beside a police cruiser adorned with flowers and other offerings outside Burnsville City Hall.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Rep. Kaohly Her, DFL-St. Paul, said the proposal could prevent firearms from falling into the hands of people who can’t legally have them, like the shooter in Burnsville.

“If you don't have a lot to actually require people to report it, then you don't have any mechanism to actually hold people accountable,” Her said. “And so I think that it is really important that this is the first step.”

Da’Qwan Jones-Morris was fatally shot in 2019 at age 17. Monica Jones said her son’s death could’ve been prevented if the gun’s owner reported the weapon missing days before it accidentally discharged into Da’Qwan’s chest.

“Reporting of lost and stolen firearms to law enforcement could have saved my son’s life,” Jones told reporters. “We have to start holding gun owners accountable for their carelessness.”

Backers of new gun laws said they’d also push again to require locked storage of firearms with ammunition kept separately. Lawmakers considered the bill last year but it stalled in committee. Gov. Tim Walz reiterated his support for the measure on Tuesday.

“I think as the state grieves and tries to find answers, and as the families are grieving over the tragedy in Burnsville, it’s incumbent upon us to look,” Walz said. “Are there things that we could have done to prevent this?” 

Firefighters salute in front of a truck
First responders from local agencies salute and pay their respects along a procession route in Jordan as the bodies of Burnsville Officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge were escorted to a funeral home.
Tim Evans for MPR News

One bill that could attract bipartisan support would exempt firearms safety devices from the sales tax.

Legislative leaders have also said there should be additional funding for first responders to help with mental health in the wake of the fatal incident. They also said they’d take another look at supportive services for survivors of domestic violence.

Last year, Minnesota lawmakers expanded a law that requires background checks to buy or transfer a firearm and another that sets up a system to seek emergency court orders to remove a person’s firearms if they pose a risk of hurting themself or others.

Even with those new laws on the books, the DFL governor said the situation merits additional discussions about policy changes that could prevent similar incidents.

“It sounds like this individual was banned from having firearms,” Walz said. “So we need to find out how did they get them? Did someone help? Did they do that? Are there penalties in there to make sure that doesn’t happen?”

Some Republican lawmakers and gun rights advocates said it’s too soon to write new laws when it’s still not clear what happened in Burnsville. A Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigation is ongoing.

An American flag balloon floats
An American flag balloon floats in front of the Burnsville City Hall.
Tim Evans for MPR News

“Right now with the information that we have, it’s premature to be lobbying out policy proposals without a real understanding of what the actual issue is,” said Rob Doar, vice president of government affairs with the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus.

Doar and Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River, also said that lawmakers should encourage the enforcement of gun laws currently on the books before weighing new ones.

“Minnesota would be a much safer place if Democrats spent a fraction of their time and energy enforcing our existing gun laws, of which there are many, stopping the anti-law enforcement rhetoric and holding criminals responsible for their actions instead of proposals that place new burdens on law-abiding Minnesotans,” Novotny said.

Other GOP lawmakers were more open to new policy changes in the wake of the fatal shooting.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said he’d like to see people who sell firearms to ineligible buyers face stiffer sentences. He suggested legislation ensuring that so-called straw purchasers face prison time.

“This very specific crime where you go out and buy a weapon for someone who's not supposed to have one. And that results in someone dying, someone getting murdered,” Garofalo said. “These people need to be locked up, period. It’s a public safety issue.”

A poster honoring officers
A poster honoring Burnsville Paul Elmstrand, Matthew Ruge and Adam Finseth sits outside the Burnsville City Hall.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Her said she was open to reviewing Garofalo’s idea. Garofalo said he would consider any option that could prevent a repeat of what happened not far from his community over the weekend.

“Three heroes got murdered last weekend because a lunatic had a gun,” Garofalo told MPR News. “As far as I’m concerned, anything is on the table to stop that from happening. We need to do a better job here at the Capitol of working together so that we have less or none of these things happening.”