The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) quickly shelved a new series of firearm permit-to-carry applications this week for overstepping the bounds of what questions law enforcement can ask residents who apply to purchase or carry a gun.
When the updated 2015 Minnesota Uniform Firearm Application Permits went out to law enforcement agencies last week, gun rights advocates quickly cried foul over a questionnaire that asked, among other things, if applicants had served in the military, used drugs or ever fled the state to avoid prosecution. Advocates said the questions violated applicants’ privacy and created a needless hurdle to exercising Second Amendment rights to bear arms.
A strictly-worded 2005 state law forbids agencies from collecting any information other than the applicant’s name, address, phone number, physical description, residence history and permission to request private data from the Department of Human Services for a background check.
That law’s author, stalwart gun rights advocate Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said many of the questions on the new application were ones authorities “had no business asking.” After he was contacted by a key gun rights advocate about the new applications, Cornish contacted Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman, who agreed to pull the applications and replace them with an older version. He applauded Dohman’s quick action on what was “a real clear legislative intent.”
“The whole thing is if they’re not prohibited or a mental patient or something like that, they meet the criteria, they get a permit,” Cornish said. “None of this ‘Why do you want one, what’s your occupation?’ Blah, blah, blah.”
BCA Spokeswoman Jill Oliveira said the bureau updated its forms to reflect changes in state law that make it tougher for domestic abusers to obtain a permit.
“We removed the form from our website earlier [Tuesday] when questions were raised about those changes, and we notified sheriffs that they should use the old form until further notice,” she said. “We’ll work through those questions and send out an updated form when they have been resolved. That work is ongoing.”
The new laws are addressed on a separate page of restrictions barring applicants from firearm possession. Although the questionnaire addresses domestic-violence convictions, it goes further, asking whether the applicant has a juvenile criminal record or whether they’ve been found incompetent to stand trial because of mental illness.
Andrew Rothman, president of the St. Paul-based Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, was first to notice the questionnaire and said that regardless of what the questions ask, “every single one of them is unauthorized by law.”
“We need to stop it at the inch before they take miles,” Rothman said, adding that the questions are unnecessary because sheriffs granting permits have 30 days to perform a background check. “We learned that poll taxes and literacy tests are impediments to exercise of rights and adding two pages of questions on a form to exercise a constitutional right isn’t a step in the right direction.”
Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, an organization aimed at preventing gun violence, disagrees. She said some of the questions on the form reveal information that may not turn up in a background check. Further, she said, where 80 percent of the state’s gun deaths are by suicide, even the simplest questions may get honest answers.
“I could say that some of those questions are very important questions, and there’s no downside to asking them,” she said. “I wish they asked everybody who is buying a gun, ‘Are you planning on killing somebody with this?’ and a certain number of people are going to say yes. That’s just the way it is.”
Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson said his office had a few people apply with the new paperwork before it was replaced. None of them complained. Still, he understood why the applications were removed. “The law is pretty specific with a permit to carry as far as what’s allowed on the form and what’s not allowed on the form,” he said. “From reading through the statute it appears the questions that were asked are problematic.”