Another round of gun law changes again in the mix at the Capitol

A man carries a rolled-up flag
Stewart Naaden of Oak Grove carries a U.S. flag to a meeting of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

When Minnesota Democrats managed to enact two gun law changes they’d long favored last year, they did it with a lot of uncertainty and the slimmest of vote margins. A replay is shaping up as advocates ask for additional gun measures around firearms storage and reporting of missing guns.

But another possible change — penalizing buyers who purchase guns for people ineligible to have them — could be coming with broader party backing. That’s in part due to a case unfolding out of a high-profile Burnsville shooting.

The gun bills are still in play after getting hearings ahead of a legislative deadline this week. But that doesn’t mean they’re all on track for passage.

None of the three can afford to stumble in the Senate’s public safety committee Friday as it could jeopardize their path forward. 

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Ahead of a hearing on the straw purchasing proposal Thursday, House Public Safety Committee Chair Rep. Kelly Moller said it’s worth bringing all the bills to the table in an effort to deter gun violence.

“It is a priority, not only for me, for our committee, but it's a priority for the state,” said Moller, DFL-Shoreview.

people rally outside a capitol building
Gun control advocacy groups rallied at the Minnesota Capitol on March 5 in support of additional restrictions on firearm possession.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

The safe storage and reporting bills would require Democrats to stick together to overcome expected opposition from Republicans. Meanwhile, the Republican-backed straw purchasing bill could be stalled out by Democrats who have said the proposal needs work.

Both gun control advocates and gun rights groups have been a fixture at the Capitol as these measures have come forward.

Those favoring more restrictive laws gathered for a rally recently. They said Democrats made strides last year in passing laws that require additional background checks to obtain a firearm and set up a petition process to remove guns from people at risk. But they and allied lawmakers said their work wasn’t done.

A close-up of an orange pin
Stewart Naaden of Oak Grove shows off his Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus pin at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

“The idea that we can do nothing about this is absurd, it is unacceptable. And our kids are living with the consequences of that attitude,” Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, told the group on the Capitol steps. “We’re going to keep on pushing together … to make sure that we keep our community safe, and that we protect Minnesota.” 

In hearings this session, gun violence survivors and family members shared the toll that gun-related deaths have taken. Hilary Brasel said the restrictions could have prevented the fatal shooting of her husband Michael Brasel just last year.

“It literally was 57 seconds that took the criminals to drive up to our home, break into my car and interact with my husband, shoot him three times and speed away,” Brasel said. “But the crime will have a lifetime of consequences, our lives will never be the same.”

GOP lawmakers have said lawmakers should also move quickly this year to address the fatal shooting of first responders in Burnsville last month. They’ve urged heightened penalties for “straw purchasers” — those who buy or provide a gun to someone unauthorized to have it.

In both chambers, Republicans have tried — without success — to suspend the rules to bring bills up for a vote that would boost the penalty from a gross misdemeanor to a felony. 

A version came up for a committee hearing Thursday and another was slotted for a Senate panel discussion Friday. GOP lawmakers voiced concerns about additions that would require additional reporting to the Legislature on firearms seized and gun trafficking investigations underway. It would also lump in additional devices attached to a firearm allowing it to fire off more bullets at once.

“If we obviously agree on the increasing penalties for straw purchasers piece, I don’t know why we couldn’t just have a clean bill that affects that rather than attaching a potentially controversial gun control piece of legislation to it as well,” Rep. Water Hudson, R-Albertville, said.

Sen. Heather Gustafson, DFL-Vadnais Heights, is carrying her own version and said it will likely begin a discussion this year.

“There’s some room to be working on that. But again, that takes time to get it right,” Gustafson said. “I don’t want to I don’t want to rush something as important as the straw purchase legislation.”

‘We obey the law’

Before passing new laws, Republicans and gun rights advocates say prosecutors should enforce laws already on the books that set penalties for those who unsafely store their firearms or transfer them to people unauthorized to have them.

“We’re law abiding, we obey the law,” Greg Kemple, of Rochester, said. “And we feel that it’s an unjust crucifixion every year when the Legislature gets in session. They immediately come out of the gate like they did this year, and started throwing all these gun laws at us.” 

Kemple and a few dozen others filled out bright yellow postcards and walked through how to talk about each of the proposals before meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday morning. 

With hours left before lawmakers were set to hit a first committee hearing deadline on Friday, gun owners held out hope that they could stave off more changes. 

“I think that if anything does pass this year,” said Rob Doar of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, “I think it’s going to be something significantly more measured than what was introduced.”

A man speaks in low-ceiling room
Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus senior vice president Rob Doar offers instructions for speaking with legislators on gun rights during a lobbying day at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News