UPDATE: The conference committee report for SF2909, including the two gun control provisions, passed the Senate late Friday in a 34-33 party-line vote.
Minnesota DFLers in a key legislative conference committee on Wednesday expressed optimism that two controversial gun control measures they agreed to insert into an amended public safety and judiciary omnibus bill now have the votes needed to pass both chambers.
An all-Democrat conference committee reached a deal to add the universal background checks and extreme risk protection order provisions to the conference committee report for SF2909 without the involvement of any Republican legislators. The conference committee report could be on the Senate floor as early as Friday.
“One of the arguments that have been made against both of these gun bills is that the guns aren’t the problem, it’s the people,” said Sen. Ron Latz, chief author of both gun control measures in the Senate. “Neither of these bills ban firearms. These bills focus on the people. Separating the firearms from the people who are under existing law ineligible to possess firearms therefore shouldn’t have them, or people who because of a crisis they’re in are an immediate threat to the safety of themselves or their family or others around them.”
Republicans and gun rights advocates have expressed opposition to both measures they say are unconstitutional and won’t actually curb gun violence.
Late last month Democrat leaders in both chambers appointed five DFLers from the House and five from the Senate to the conference committee on SF2909 to reconcile its differences before getting an agreed upon version approved and sent to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz. It was one of just two committees this session that includes no Republicans from either chamber. Republicans have said their members have been shut out of conference committees this session, which breaks past precedent of having at least one member of the minority party from each chamber being appointed to a conference committee.
“Democrats are making a mockery of our conference committee process, shutting out the voices of 48 percent of Minnesotans and adopting controversial policy provisions with zero public notice and zero debate just minutes after they were posted,” said House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, following the news the conference committee adopted the gun control provisions to their conference report.
“These gun control measures violate the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners, and are being forced into a budget bill to avoid an up or down vote because Democrats know these bills have bipartisan opposition and would not pass,” Demuth added.
Breaking their silence
Both gun control provisions now appear to have the support of at least two DFL senators from swing districts who had previously been quiet on the issue.
Democrats hold a 34-33 margin over Republicans in the Senate. Earlier this session DFL leaders in the Senate expressed cautious optimism they would be able to find the votes they need to get both gun control measures to the desk of Gov. Walz, who has vowed to sign them whether they were presented in an omnibus bill form or as stand-alone pieces of legislation.
Judy Seeberger, of Afton, and Grant Hauschild, of Hermantown, are both first-term senators.
Hauschild won election last November in the northern Minnesota Senate District 3 by 704 votes. That was an open seat previously held by longtime legislator Tom Bakk. Seeberger won her east metro race in Senate District 41 by 321 votes.
On Tuesday, Hauschild granted an exclusive interview with a Duluth television news station where he declared his intent to vote for the conference report that now includes both gun restriction provisions.
“I came to the conclusion that we have to do something,” Hauschild told a reporter for the CBS affiliate in Duluth. “There have been far too many school shootings. There has been far too much gun violence in our streets. And so background checks and the extreme risk protection orders made sense to make sure that we are addressing these where we can.”
Seeberger sits on the conference committee appointed to reconcile differences between the House and Senate over the public safety bill. She did not speak on Wednesday when Latz announced the universal background check and ERPO provisions would be amended to the conference report. But fellow conferee Sen. Bonnie Westlin, DFL-Plymouth, credited Seeberger for her influence in ensuring those provisions would be included in the final conference report that will head to the House and Senate for an up or down vote.
“It is so incredibly important we are finally at this place where we are able to pass this into law,” Westlin said. “And I do want to thank to Sen. Seeberger, in particular, who I know worked with Sen. Latz to create this bill, and had input to make this the best bill we could do, so thank you.”
Gun rights groups say Democrats hiding behind conference report
The conference committee voted via unanimous voice vote to add both gun control provisions to their conference report. The conferees adopted a Senate provision that allows individuals who have their firearms confiscated via an extreme risk protection order to petition the court after six months to regain possession. The House version of the legislation required a 12-month waiting period. On the universal background checks provision, conferees adopted language to make it a misdemeanor crime for gun owners who don’t record private transfers. The House version would make it a gross misdemeanor.
While gun rights groups said the process by which the DFL inserted the gun control bills into the conference report avoids the ability for legislators to bring amendments to the floor and have robust conversations over the provisions, Democrats insisted the provisions don’t infringe upon Second Amendment rights.
Senate Republican leaders said that if Seeberger, Hauschild and other Democrats in swing districts were in touch with their constituents they would vote down the SF2909 conference report in both chambers.
“The self-described moderates will have to decide if they will stay true to the promises to their constituents or bend to the will of party leadership,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks. “But they will also be voting for a bill that no longer funds three important provisions: mental health grants and wellness grants for first responders, additional school safety center staff, and body camera grants for law enforcement. Moreover, the bill undoes the unanimous change in the House to leave in law the language that clearly states pedophilia is not a protected class.”
“We didn’t think the ‘Get out of Jail Free’ Public Safety bill could get any worse, but somehow, Democrats found a way.”
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.