A renewed push in the state Senate to expand criminal background checks on gun sales and adopt “red flag” legislation coincided Thursday with a daylong lobbying effort by gun rights advocates unwilling to budge on any new gun restrictions.
Senate backers want to broaden background check requirements to cover private sales, such as transactions at gun shows or online marketplaces. Those looking to buy any firearm in a private sale would first need to obtain a permit and undergo annual background checks to maintain eligibility.
Another proposal would introduce extreme risk protection orders, commonly referred to as “red flag” laws, which would allow relatives or law enforcement to petition a judge to take firearms away from people deemed to pose a serious threat to harm themselves or others. Petitioners could request a court hearing within two weeks or, in emergencies, ask the judge to order the firearms to be removed immediately with a hearing to follow later.
“My bottom line would be if you are a law-abiding gun owner and you don’t have a prohibitive criminal history, you really have nothing to worry about from these bills,” Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, said at a Thursday news conference at the Capitol.
Latz rolled out the proposals in the middle of a day of lobbying organized by the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, which has maintained fervent opposition to any new pieces of gun legislation in recent years.
Rob Doar, the group’s political director, said about 900 people registered to come speak with lawmakers and drop off postcards expressing their concerns over any new gun control laws.
Addressing a small gathering of supporters on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, vowed to maintain his resistance of Democrats’ push to pass new gun laws.
“I will do everything in my power to stop that,” Gazelka said. “You also need to note that I am one vote. That’s why I’ve talked about that it’s nice to have a few Democrats who are with us.”
Gazelka was referring to Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, who earlier in January told reporters that on the subject of background check expansion “you lose me when you tell me that I can’t sell my shotgun to my neighbor.”
To that, Latz said Thursday that “we don’t always know our neighbors and even our friends as well as we think we do.”
“There’s a real practical aspect to this as well,” Latz said. “I don’t know how you define in statute who’s a friend and who’s not a friend, or who’s a neighbor and who’s not a neighbor.”
The governor has urged public hearings and a vote on the proposals, which would need to pass the Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee chaired by Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove. Gazelka has previously said that Limmer wanted to conduct a “comprehensive overview of guns” and Republican leadership in the Senate has instead opted to focus on school safety measures over expanding gun regulations.
“They may have very strong beliefs in the Senate that this is not the right way to go and they may not want to see it happen,” Gov. Tim Walz told reporters last week. “Then go ahead and have the vote and make it clear where you stand and go ahead and allow Minnesotans to see where you stand.”
About three dozen advocates aligned with the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus filed into the Capitol’s news conference room as Latz hung back to take notes on their objections Thursday.
Rather than broadening gun restrictions, Doar instead identified 72-hour mental health holds and domestic violence statutes as existing laws that could prevent gun violence. He called the red flag bill overly broad and lacking due process, and suggested incentivizing rather than requiring sellers to ask for permits in private transactions.
“Ultimately what we need to look at is are we actually addressing a problem or are we adding additional barriers to entry to the exercise of a constitutional right?” Doar said.