The Minnesota House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to restrict the ability of anyone convicted of domestic abuse and stalking from possessing firearms.
In a resounding 111-15 vote, DFLers and many Republicans joined forces to pass the measure after months of sometimes delicate negotiations between two powerful and well-financed factions: gun-owner-rights groups and organizations that favor tougher gun restrictions.
“It will keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers,” said state Rep. Dan Schoen, a St. Paul Park DFLer who is chief sponsor of the measure and a police officer.
The measure is widely considered a breakthrough on a historically divisive issue at the Capitol, where attempts to restrict firearms typically have been met with scathing and unyielding opposition. In recent years, gun advocates from both parties have beaten back proposals calling for broader background checks and restrictions on ownership of certain types of semi-automatic rifles.
This time, some of the House’s toughest critics of gun restrictions lined up to support the measure.
“I find myself in a position to vote for a bill that actually has the word ‘gun’ in it. I think that is progress,” said state Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake.
Dill said law-abiding gun owners have nothing to fear in the measure, and it sends a strong message that “domestic violence is not acceptable in any place, particularly not in the state of Minnesota.”
Opponents say they are unconvinced the measure won’t have broader implications.
“I am not confident the bill is going to do what they say it will do,” said state Rep. Bud Nornes, a Fergus Falls Republican who voted against the measure. “People are terribly afraid of any new gun bill that comes floating by here.”
Of his opposition, Nornes said, “I know it’s not a popular vote, but to the people I have talked to in my district, that is what they felt was the right thing to do.”
State law already prohibits convicted abusers and stalkers from owning handguns, but this new proposal would include rifles and all firearms.
The measure also goes a step further.
Anybody subject to a temporary protection order would have to relinquish possession of their firearms, if ordered by a judge. After the judge’s order, the individual must turn over their weapons to law enforcement, a licensed gun dealer, a friend or a family member.
The weapons can be returned once the order is lifted, generally after two years.
The issue of gun ownership while a protective order is in effect caused a snag late in the negotiations. Gun-rights groups fought for and got more safeguards to ensure that someone subjected to an order would give up possession but would not lose ownership of the weapons.
Any weapon inventory taken as part of the court process would be sealed by the court and not shared with the public or even with law enforcement.
“We think that it is a big step forward for ensuring the safety of mothers and children who are entangled with domestic abusers,” said Rebecca Lowen, head of the Minnesota branch of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The bipartisan vote “shows it is an issue overall for the safety of moms and kids and of all Minnesotans.”
The measure now goes to the state Senate, where support appears strong. Gov. Mark Dayton’s staff said he is reserving judgment until he sees the final version, but he is impressed by the strong bipartisan support.
Dill said some gun owners he has heard from remain skeptical of the measure and worry that it is more wide-reaching than is being presented.
“I hope we can educate them in coming months,” he said.
State Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, said the proposal will save lives.
“I know this and I feel this in my heart,” said Ward, a strong and steady defender of the right to own firearms. “Whether it is one, or 50 or 100, it is going to save lives. We have an opportunity to stand here for both principles we believe in.”