Will a publicity push this week from Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and former congresswoman turned gun control activist Gabby Giffords be enough to ensure that all 34 Democrats in the Minnesota Senate vote to pass a pair of high-profile and politically polarizing gun restriction bills on the floor this session?
Walz expressed optimism at a press conference Thursday that SF1116 and SF1117 will get the votes required from his DFL colleagues in the Senate that would then almost assuredly send both bills to his desk for signatures.
“We’re going to pass this,” he said.
But the bills’ sponsor, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, was more cautious.
While the DFL holds a six-seat advantage in the House, it has 34 Democrats to 33 Republicans in the Senate, including two freshmen DFL senators from Greater Minnesota, in districts that could flip Republican in the next election cycle. Those legislators are Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown, and Rob Kupec, DFL-Moorhead.
Both bills passed on party-line votes out of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee last week after more than three hours of public testimony and debate among senators. House versions of those bills were passed in a similar committee in February, also on party-line votes after hours of debate where members of the public had to obtain a ticket to attend in person. The outcome of such a vote on the Senate floor on the bills is not yet certain, according to those closest to the action.
“We have 34 members of the Senate,” Latz said at the tail end of a Thursday press conference Walz held at the State Capitol to gin up support for the bills. “Some of them are new, some of them are getting their feet under themselves, learning what it’s like to be an elected official. And they are learning what it’s like to make tough decisions. For some they look at their districts and these are not necessarily easy decisions for them.”
“I’m cautiously optimistic we are going to get to 34 on this and we are going to keep working until we do,” Latz told media members and bill supporters in attendance.
Republican leaders in the Senate and gun rights activists who testified in opposition to the bills last week said both bills are constitutional overreaches against law-abiding gun owners.
Universal background checks, documentation for private party transfers
SF1116/HF14 would create criminal background checks for private party transfers of pistols and semiautomatic firearms. The bill wouldn’t apply to most hunting rifles.
The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association supports the measure, saying that it would not prevent all acts of gun violence but would make a significant difference.
But gun rights activists in Minnesota say the bill would actually harm law-abiding citizens with overburdensome processes, such as requiring a permit for every back and forth private party transfer of handguns or rifles with certain attachments and giving local law enforcement the authority to mandate a 30-day waiting period for such transfers to take place.
“Imagine an abused partner going in to purchase a pistol finding out that they can’t buy a pistol for self-defense purposes right now they may need that night,” said Brian Gosch, Minnesota director for the National Rifle Association, during a hearing on the bill last week in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. “In this case they would have to wait up to 30 days before they can get that permit to purchase.”
Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove, the ranking Republican in the committee, said the bill can’t be considered in line with the protections guaranteed to citizens under the Second Amendment.
“Using this law to basically focus on law-abiding citizen transactions, I consider to be an overreach,” said Limmer, who has served on public safety committees in the Senate for more than two decades. “I believe many of the people here today that are concerned about the legislation see it as an incremental step to eventually denying rights that are outlined in our constitution.”
Red flag law would have a ‘chilling effect’ on law-abiding citizens, gun rights activists say
Language in SF1117/HF15 would allow family or household members or law enforcement officers and even mental health professionals to petition a court to issue an extreme risk protection order (ERPO), which prohibits respondents to the action from possessing firearms for a minimum of six months. The individuals do not have to have been charged with a crime in order for a court to issue the ERPO.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who testified in support of the bill, said it “would provide an important tool not just for government and law enforcement, but really for families and communities. Many times it’s the families that can identify these situations before we can.”
But Rob Doar of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus said the legislation contains several constitutionally problematic components, including the fact that the ERPO would be issued in an ex parte capacity.
“I cannot think of a bigger barrier to law-abiding gun owners seeking the mental health help they might need than the prospect that their mental health provider or counselor might be able to use that ability to use that red flag order against them,” Doar said during the March 23 Senate committee hearing on the bill. “It will have a chilling effect on them to seek the mental health care which they need, particularly veterans.”
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.