Gun control bills unveiled as opponents fan out at the Capitol

Published 7:32 pm Thursday, January 24, 2019

ST. PAUL — A Minnesota state senator proposed new gun restrictions Thursday while gun control opponents fanned out across the state Capitol complex to lobby their lawmakers to oppose further limits.

Sen. Ron Latz introduced bills to require background checks before most gun sales in Minnesota, and to allow police and family members to obtain court orders to temporarily remove guns from people who pose an imminent danger to themselves or others, also known as a red flag law.

“Both, we know, will in fact reduce gun violence if they get passed,” the St. Louis Park Democrat said at a news conference surrounded by fellow Democratic senators.

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But Thursday was also lobbying day for the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, whose members converged at the Capitol to track down their legislators and urge them to oppose the legislation. The group plans a larger rally at the Capitol on Feb. 23. Bryan Strawser, chairman of the group, said at a separate news conference that they have “legitimate concerns” about the legislation infringing on the rights of lawful gun owners.

Speaking at the caucus’ news conference, Daniel Ward, membership director of the African-American Heritage Gun Club of Minnesota, called instead for tougher enforcement of laws already on the books that target criminals who get guns illegally through straw purchases and thefts.

“How about being tougher on the criminals rather than being tougher on law-abiding citizens?” he said.

Background check and red-flag bills are key planks in the platform of the new House Democratic majority. The legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Republicans hold a two-vote majority. Their leaders and some rural Democrats have been unenthusiastic about more gun restrictions. But Latz said the “political dynamics have changed” since last year, when he lost on procedural moves to force floor votes on background checks and red flag orders. He’s hoping for some votes from suburban Republicans.

“I think we will have the votes in the Senate. We were very close last year. I think if we’d had a formal vote on the merits we might have been able to pass it last year,” he said. “You never know for sure until the votes go up on the board. But I’m hopeful that we’ll have the votes, if we get a vote on the merits, to pass both of these bills.”

Latz said the experience of other states with universal background checks suggests that they reduce shootings of police officers and domestic-violence shootings by about 50 percent. He added that red flag laws elsewhere demonstrably reduce gun violence. In Maryland, where a law has been in effect for three months, courts granted 148 out of 302 petitions for firearms seizures. He noted that Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin said four of those owners were deemed “significant threats” to schools. And he said data from Connecticut show that seizures there prevented an estimated 72 suicides in the early years of its law.

The senator said his red flag bill is identical to the House version, which was introduced earlier this month, but his background checks bill takes a different approach by requiring all gun purchasers to obtain free one-year permits in advance from law enforcement agencies. The House version would instead funnel most private sales and transfers through licensed firearms dealers that would run the background checks.