Politics and Government

Bills for firearm safe storage, boosting straw buyer penalties pass in Minnesota House

A gun safety box sits on top of a story display
Central Connecticut Arms in Portland, Connecticut, sells a variety of gun safes and cable locks. Connecticut is one of 11 states that has laws regarding firearm locking devices.
Ryan Lindsay | WNPR

Updated 6:25 a.m.

The Minnesota House voted Thursday to approve a bill that would set new restrictions on firearms and the way they’re stored.

The DFL-led chamber on a vote of 68-64 approved the proposal that would require gun owners to lock, unload or store a firearm when it’s not in their possession after an hours-long debate. Improperly storing a firearm would carry a petty misdemeanor charge with stiffer penalties if the gun is left in an area where a child is present or where someone not allowed to have one can access it.

Lawmakers also passed a proposal that would boost the penalty for buying firearms for people who can't legally have them. Those who buy firearms for ineligible people would face a felony charge, up from the current misdemeanor charge and face a maximum of two years in prison, under the bill. That measure passed 71-59 with three Republicans joining all but one Democrat in voting in favor.

Before adjourning after midnight Friday, the House also unanimously approved a bill ramping up penalties for swatting of public officials.

The gun bills face an uncertain path in the Senate where DFLers hold a one-vote advantage and more-moderate Democrats have avoided saying publicly whether they would support the proposals.

Supporters said the measures are aimed at preventing firearms from falling into the hands of those who can’t have them and preventing gun injuries and deaths.

“I just want fewer people to be killed by guns in our state,” the safe storage bill’s author, Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, said. “I know this bill won't prevent every single bad thing from happening, but it will prevent some of them and that is enough for me.”

Republicans said the storage bill could slow someone seeking out their firearm if an intruder or other threat emerged. And they said it could penalize law-abiding gun owners.

“This one-size-fits all storage provision makes me choose between protecting myself as a single woman who lives by herself, or being a law breaker,” said Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea. “We need to stop going after law abiding citizens, law abiding women and gun owners like me and start going after the criminals who are using guns to break the law.”

Becker-Finn said that a person likely wouldn’t be in violation in that case, because the firearm is within the owner’s reach.

Earlier this week, the chamber voted 68-63 to set a 48-hour deadline to report a lost or stolen firearm. Gun owners would face a petty misdemeanor charge if they fail to report the firearm missing within that timeline.

The straw purchasing bill would also require the state to report about the number of firearms seized by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehensions and gun trafficking investigations conducted.

 

With the Minnesota Senate narrowly divided between Democrats and Republicans, the bills could have a tougher path forward.

Sen. Heather Gustafson, DFL-Vadnais Heights, is the Senate author of the safe storage and straw purchasing bills. She said she is in conversations with her colleagues and remains hopeful that the bills can pass through that chamber this year.

“I don’t think I’m breaking any news by saying that gun legislation is some of the hardest bills to pass,” Gustafson said. “I know people on both sides of the aisle care about public safety. It’s just I think we approach it from different sides and different philosophies. And so we’re sort of working through that right now.”

Gov. Tim Walz has said he would sign the bills into law if they reach his desk.

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