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House overwhelmingly passes firearm restrictions for abusers, stalkers

Posted by: under Minnesota campaigns, Gov. Mark Dayton, Democrats, Republicans Updated: April 30, 2014 - 10:09 PM

Minnesotans convicted of domestic abuse and stalking are closer to losing the ability to possess firearms as part of a measure that the state House overwhelmingly passed Wednesday.

House members approved the measure after months of sometimes dicey 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 was chief sponsor of the measure and a police officer.

Passing 111 to 15, the measure is widely considered a breakthrough on a historically divisive issue at the Capitol in which any measures to restrict firearms have been met with scathing and effective opposition. In the past years, gun advocates from both parties have beaten back proposals calling for broader background checks and restrictions on ownership 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 world ‘gun’ 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.”

Those who opposed the measure did not speak during the floor debate.

State law already prohibits convicted abusers and stalkers from having handguns, but this new proposal would include 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 negotiations. Gun-rights groups fought for and got more safeguards to ensure that someone subjected to an order would only lose possession, not ownership of the weapons. Any weapon inventory taken as part of the court process will be sealed by the court, and not shared with the public or 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, the 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 with the strong bipartisan support.

Dill said some gun owners he has heard from remain skeptical about the measure, and they 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.”

Final vote.                              Photo by Rachel E. Stassen-Berger

Final vote. Photo by Rachel E. Sttassen-Berger

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