A few suburban Republican state lawmakers proposed two new measures on guns this week, coming late in a legislative session that has seen more-ambitious gun control efforts repeatedly stymied.
But the proposals failed to garner support from Minnesota sheriffs, domestic abuse prevention advocates or gun control supporters, and even the sponsors said they’re unlikely to advance this year.
One of the bills would add new requirements aimed at tightening the process by which subjects of a domestic violence protection order must relinquish their guns. The other proposal is intended to encourage background checks during private gun sales or transfers.
The measure related to domestic abuse orders is sponsored by Reps. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, and Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie. They also introduced the background check measure along with Rep. Cindy Pugh, R-Chanhassen. The proposals come with just over two weeks left in the legislative session, and after Republican leaders at the State Capitol spent months blocking gun control proposals pushed by students following the deadly school shooting in Florida.
“Legislating is about the art of the possible,” Loon said. “The topic of gun control overall is one that is touchy no matter who is in charge politically.” The new proposals “take an incremental step and try to build support around where is it that we can come together,” she said.
Rep. Brian Johnson, chairman of the House Public Safety and Security Committee, said he was not sure they would have time to consider the measures. “But it’s something I want to look at possibly for next session,” said Johnson, R-Cambridge.
The bills would have had a better chance if they were introduced earlier, Loon acknowledged, but she said conversations about the measures could continue next year.
“We find all of these to be kind of mystifying, really too little too late,” said Nancy Nord Bence, executive director of the gun control advocacy group Protect Minnesota.
Legislators stopped other bills, including bills addressing universal background checks and gun-violence restraining orders, that would have had a significant impact, Bence said. The Republican proposals will do little to protect Minnesotans, she said.
“I think this will benefit the suburban Republicans who want to be able to tell the voters they introduced a bill,” Bence said. “That’s who gets benefited by these bills.”
On Friday, surrounded by students who traveled to Washington, D.C., in March for the “March for Our Lives” protest against gun violence, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton reiterated his call for school security funding and gun legislation. He supports various changes to state law, including expanded background checks and the gun restraining orders, also referred to as red-flag laws.
Gun-violence restraining orders in effect in a small number of states allow law enforcement or family members to petition a court to remove guns from someone who may pose a danger to others or to themselves. The Minnesota GOP proposal would apply only if a court protection order is already in place.
Minnesota law currently says under certain circumstances a person convicted of domestic assault must transfer any guns he or she has to law enforcement, a federally licensed firearms dealer or a third party who can legally receive the guns. They need to turn them over within three business days and file proof that they did so.
Loon noted that a KARE 11 investigation found people frequently do not comply, and she said the state needs more clarity about who is responsible for following up.
Their proposal would require a hearing within three days of the protection order, where the court would ask about the abuser’s gun access and tell them to hand over weapons to the sheriff. The sheriff would have to file proof with the court that the guns were transferred.
Sheriffs not consulted
Bill Hutton, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, said he doesn’t understand why the bill changes the requirement so that only sheriffs, not other law enforcement agencies, can accept the guns. The association was not consulted, he said.
“It’s going to put a greater onus on sheriffs,” Hutton said. “We welcome the opportunity to have a conversation on it, but I can tell you as it’s written that we as the Sheriffs’ Association have concerns.”
The proposal is well-intentioned, but it’s not what’s needed, said Safia Khan, with the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. She said lawmakers need to bring together sheriffs, prosecutors and other experts to develop legislation that fixes gaps in the system.
Loon said she is open to adjustments to the bill.
Under the background check proposal, someone who sells or gives a pistol or semiautomatic assault weapon to a person who later uses it in a crime would be immune from prosecution if the seller can show a copy of the recipient’s permit to carry or permit to purchase. Those permits require background checks.
Currently, someone who sells or transfers those guns can be charged with a gross misdemeanor if the person who receives the weapons uses them to commit a felony within a year.
A recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll found strong statewide support for universal background checks on gun sales, at 90 percent. Support was even higher in Hennepin and Ramsey counties; both Loon and Anderson represent parts of suburban Hennepin County. The same poll also found 61 percent of Hennepin and Ramsey County residents felt the Minnesota Legislature has not done enough to tighten gun laws.
The Republican measures are “tepid at best” and come in response to pressure from residents, said Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, who has pushed for various gun control proposals this year.
“The question is,” he said. “Are they going to convert that pressure into real action?”