At both the state and federal levels, the powerful pro-gun lobby has successfully blocked constructive gun control legislation — including stronger background checks for firearms purchasers.
During Minnesota's ongoing legislative session, however, a common-sense move to target a group of offenders has a good chance of making it into law. Minnesota legislators on both sides of the aisle deserve praise for working together on legislation designed to keep firearms away from domestic abusers.
The reasonable measure was introduced by Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, who is also a police officer. It would prevent anyone convicted of domestic abuse from legally purchasing a firearm, obtaining a permit or possessing a firearm. The same restrictions would apply to a person who is subject to a restraining order for domestic violence.
Accused offenders would be required to turn over the guns they already own to a law enforcement agent, a firearms dealer or someone who can legally hold them until the order is lifted or the case resolved.
The bill would bring state law in line with federal regulations. Existing Minnesota law takes guns away from convicted offenders for only three years, while federal law permanently removes the right to own and carry firearms. With orders of protection, the person can have his or her gun rights restored after the order is lifted.
Here's why state law should change: According to an annual report from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, of the 38 domestic violence-related deaths last year, 10 were caused by firearms.
At least 25 women, seven men, and six friends, family members or interveners were killed in cases in which the suspected, alleged or convicted perpetrators were current or former intimate partners.
In addition, the advocacy group reported, at least 12 minor children were left without mothers as a result of domestic violence.
In committee testimony, Schoen said his law enforcement experience with domestic abuse convinced him of the need for the law. "We're not going after law-abiding gun owners, " he said. "If you beat women and children, you don't deserve to have your gun."
The veteran officer's proposal does exactly what gun control opponents have always asked for by targeting bad actors and not interfering with the rights of people who follow the law.
Schoen's bill was backed by police and prosecutors, including St. Paul City Attorney Sara Grewing, who called firearms "an instrument of torture" in the domestic abuse cases her office handles. In cases with orders of protection, she added, all too often victims say: "He has a gun and I am scared.''
Restricting legal access to guns for this type of offender supports the work law enforcement and prosecutors have done in recent years to help battered partners. Years ago, cops tended to see family violence as a personal matter that should be resolved within families. Now, officers in Minnesota can make arrests and pursue cases based on evidence they've seen — even if the victim is too frightened to press charges.
The proposed legislation would be a boost for groups like the Partnership for Domestic Abuse Service (PDAS), a collaborative of 18 Ramsey County government and nonprofit partners whose mission is to "identify, create, and sustain innovative responses that assure a future free of domestic violence."
Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, has opposed many of the gun control measures considered by the Legislature. But the retired police chief supports Schoen's proposal, he says, because he appreciates that it came from a "street cop'' and that it was developed in cooperation with various gun groups.
"I plan to vote for it, and I think most of us will see the wisdom in it,'' Cornish said. "This is really what both sides of the gun debate are after — keeping the person that really shouldn't have guns from getting them.''