Two gun proposals are moving at the Minnesota Capitol

Published 8:48 am Thursday, February 16, 2023

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By Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio News

On Thursday supporters of new gun laws will rally at the Minnesota Capitol, lobbying members of the Legislature to pass measures they say will reduce gun violence.

They have new hope this year that two laws will actually pass.

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Much of what’s being proposed has been bought up before in Minnesota. What’s changed is Democrats now control the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature.

“We’ve had bills that advanced to the Minnesota House and passed the past couple years, and they have been regularly blocked when Republicans have controlled the Senate,” said Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul.  “And there’s been a change now.”

What the bill would include

Pinto says he thinks two measures could become law this year — one to expand criminal background checks to all firearms purchases and another that would allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from people found to be dangerous to themselves and others.

“I use the phrase gun control, but I’ll say, we’re really talking about gun safety legislation,” Pinto said. “And we’re trying to do more to keep guns out of the hands of people who have shown themselves to be dangerous.”

Background checks are already required, but not for all gun purchases — only those done through licensed firearms dealers. Pinto’s bill would require similar checks for all gun buyers, including those who buy from other gun owners.

As for the other bill to allow for what are called “extreme risk protection” orders, 19 states and the District of Columbia already have them on the books. The Biden administration is also helping states implement such laws under the federal gun safety bill that passed last year.

Pinto says he thinks both proposals have a good chance of becoming law in Minnesota this year, now that Republicans no longer have the votes to stop them in the Senate.

And while he said he is hopeful some gun safety measures will pass this year, he says he’s guardedly optimistic. The margins, Pinto says, are just too close to call.

Gun rights advocates say they will actively oppose the DFL-backed legislation.

“These bills are not going to do anything,” said Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus member Rev. Tim Christopher of north Minneapolis, at a lobbying day event last month at the Capitol.

Christopher said Minnesota’s problem with gun violence is the result of prosecutors’ failure to enforce laws that are already on the books.

“As long as you have a turnstile in a police department, and they are walking out the back door when they walk in the front door, it doesn’t matter,” Christopher said. “They can drop all the bills they want. They’re not going to work.”

Constitutional argument

Rob Doar, the vice president and political director of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said Democrats are not offering solutions to gun violence and instead are seeking  to discourage legal gun ownership.

“The bills only add hurdles for law-abiding citizens,” Doar said. “It only makes it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their constitutional rights.”

Pinto disagrees. He said addressing gun violence is complicated, and that expanding background checks and removing weapons from people who might be likely to hurt themselves or others are legitimate tactics to strengthen existing gun laws.

“No one solution is going to do everything,” Pinto said. “But any one solution is going to be a part of what we do to address this epidemic.”