REGIONAL- Gov. Tim Walz has signed landmark gun control legislation expanding background checks for firearms and enacting a “red flag” provision enabling authorities to intervene when …
REGIONAL- Gov. Tim Walz has signed landmark gun control legislation expanding background checks for firearms and enacting a “red flag” provision enabling authorities to intervene when someone is at high risk of injuring themselves or others with a firearm.
The measures were the highest profile items in an overall public safety bill that will fund Minnesota’s court system, state prisons, BCA crime labs, civil legal aid, community violence prevention efforts and many other DFL priorities under the public safety umbrella.
For Walz, the gun control provisions represent a partial victory for a broader set of measures he introduced at the outset of this year’s legislative session. DFL leaders had hoped control of the Legislature would allow them to pass additional restraints such as raising the age to buy a military-style semi-automatic rifle to 21, banning high capacity magazines, and stricter storage requirements, but could not muster the universal support among its own members necessary in the closely-divided 34-33 Senate.
But support for and opposition to gun control measures didn’t line up along strictly partisan lines, with some DFL senators, including Third District freshman Sen. Grant Hauschild, opposing certain proposals that they believed infringed on the rights of gun owners.
But when push came to shove on expanded background checks and the red flag measure in the public safety bill, Hauschild provided his support, citing the rash of 23 school shootings with injuries or deaths in 2023 as his rationale.
“I came to the conclusion that we have to do something,” Hauschild told Northern News Now. “There have been far too many school shootings. There has been far too much gun violence in our streets. And so background checks and the extreme risk protection orders made sense to make sure that we are addressing these where we can. I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks in the district about the need to do something. I’ve talked to sheriffs and police, talking about their hands being tied when families reach out to them about concerns they have with those that they live with perhaps being a threat to themselves or others. We have to be able to give the tools to law enforcement to address those concerns. Equally, I’ve heard from mothers concerned about dropping their kids off at school. I’m a father, I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old, and I can’t look my kids in the eye and tell them that there’s nothing that we could do to address gun violence and school shootings.”
Republicans criticized the DFL for slipping the provision into the larger funding bill instead of presenting them as stand-alone bills for an up-or-down vote, which they claimed would have led to their defeat. The bill does nothing to keep criminals from getting their hands on firearms, they argue.
“This is a bad bill that coddles criminals and infringes on the rights of law-abiding gun owners,” House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said during floor debate on the bill.
The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, a Second Amendment advocacy group, also expressed their dismay with the bill.
“It is extremely disappointing that the governor has signed these provisions into law without so much as a stand-alone floor vote in the Senate,” said Bryan Strawser, the group’s chairman. “If these measures were truly as popular as the governor claims, there would be no need to bury these provisions in an omnibus bill. The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus will be closely monitoring the implementation of these laws, and, in conjunction with our national partners, we stand ready to take possible legal action.”
But in a May 19 signing ceremony attended by DFL lawmakers, law enforcement and gun violence survivors, including former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, Walz said the background checks and red flag law would help prevent gun violence and make Minnesotans safer.
“As a veteran, gun-owner, hunter, and dad, I know basic gun safety isn’t a threat to the Second Amendment – it’s about keeping our kids safe,” said Governor Walz. “There’s no place for weapons of war in our schools, churches, banks, or anywhere else people are just trying to live their lives. Today is about taking meaningful action to create a safer future for our kids, and I am proud to sign this commonsense, life-saving legislation into law.”
Under the “red flag” measure, family members could petition a court to temporarily ban someone from possessing firearms if they pose a significant risk to themselves or others. It would create an “extreme risk protection order” that law enforcement, household or family members, city or county attorneys, or guardians could obtain.
Minnesota is now the 20th state to enact red flag protections that allow firearms to be removed from those deemed a danger to themselves or others. However, a Sept. 2022 analysis of the use of red flag laws by the Associated Press showed that the measures are rarely used and have little effect on gun violence overall.
Criminal background checks have now been expanded to include private, person-to-person sales of pistols and semiautomatic weapons. A background check is not required for a private transfer of a hunting rifle. Transfers between immediate family members are also exempt from the background check requirement. Records of a transaction must be kept by both parties for 10 years.
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.
• 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.
• 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.
MPR News contributed to this article.
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