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Continued: Minnesota offenders who win back gun rights stay out of trouble

  • Article by: BRANDON STAHL  , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 10, 2013 - 9:04 AM

For others, getting their firearms back was about being able to hunt again. Jacob Jeppesen, 29, got his rights restored last year in Dakota County after being convicted of first-degree burglary and third-degree assault in 2005.

Jeppesen said the restoration process was expensive, because he had to hire an attorney, but not difficult.

“It was a one-day deal,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be as smooth as it was.”

In some cases, Minnesotans were able to get their gun rights back despite the objection of law enforcement or their victims. In 2007, 65-year-old Richard John Johnson of New Ulm was convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault after he threatened to shoot his brother and his wife, court records show.

Two years later, he successfully had his gun rights restored, despite the objection from the two people he had threatened.

The judge in the case, John Rodenberg, wrote that he restored the rights because the probation period and restraining order had passed.

“Whether the defendant’s use or possession of firearms is otherwise restricted is not before the court,” Rodenberg wrote.

Johnson could not be reached for comment.

If passed, Goodwin’s bill would force felons convicted of major offenses to wait 10 years before they could petition a judge for firearms restoration. Others would have to wait five. Petitions would have to be made where the felon was convicted and would require a higher standard of proof before the right is restored.

Under the current system, a restoration is granted if a judge finds the petitioner shows “good cause.”

‘Just want clarity’

Greg Kryzer, an assistant Wright County attorney, thinks that part of the law is too vague.

In 2011 he appealed the restoration granted to a St. Michael man who was convicted twice in 2002 of manufacturing methamphetamines. Kryzer said he believed the man could be a threat if he were able to acquire firearms. The court ruled that the man “poses little threat to public safety” because he had been able to demonstrate his rehabilitation.

“We just want some clarity,” Kryzer said.

Goodwin said the impetus for the bill came from a July 2001 incident in Columbia Heights when David Byrne shot three police officers. Byrne had his gun rights restored in 1987, 21 years after he was convicted of using a shotgun to kill his ex-wife and a friend in Fridley.

Byrne first targeted officer Michael McGee, because the two knew each other from the neighborhood, and Byrne thought McGee was harassing him. McGee was walking home from work when Byrne shot him in the back with a shotgun. Byrne then fetched a rifle and a submachine gun from his home and shot two other officers.

McGee, who is now retired, said he’s had five surgeries since the shooting, the last one in 2010. He said that he supports Goodwin’s bill but that he doesn’t believe it would have prevented what happened to him almost 13 years ago, noting the length of time it took Byrne to get his rights back.

Asked what could have prevented the shooting, McGee responded, “If he would have never known me. If he would have never lived in Columbia Heights.”

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