By STEVE KARNOWSKI (Associated Press)
SF. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota House is considering a “red flag law” that would allow the temporary confiscation of guns from people deemed to be an immediate threat to themselves or others, as well as a proposal for expanded background checks for guns fire transfers.
The two gun measures are part of a comprehensive public safety bill that lawmakers debated late Tuesday before breaking up around midnight. A spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus said the debate should resume on Wednesday.
“Every other industrialized nation in the world can find a way to preserve their freedoms and not kill their children and citizens,” Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said during a rally on the Capitol steps. “We can have both.”
However, first on the House’s agenda was the completion of work that began Monday night on a contentious bill to legalize recreational marijuana. It passed 71-59. The Senate is scheduled to vote on its own cannabis bill on Friday.
The public safety bill was last on the agenda for the day. Republicans have pre-filed more than 30 amendments to various provisions of the public safety bill, predicting a lengthy debate.
“We’re addressing gun violence head-on in this bill,” Democratic Rep. Kelly Moller, D-Shoreview, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, told reporters. “These are common sense measures that our constituents for years have told us they want.”
The proposals have gained traction in Minnesota this year, now that Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, even as the national debate over gun violence prevention grows increasingly polarized.
In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a background check bill into law earlier this month and said she would sign a red flag bill that is still under negotiation if it reaches her desk. But in Colorado, Democratic lawmakers on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned the sale and transfer of semiautomatic firearms, illustrating that even the Democratic-controlled state doesn’t have free rein when it comes to overhauling gun laws.
And it’s still unclear whether either of Minnesota’s two gun measures can pass the Senate and reach Walz’s desk, who has pledged to sign them if he does. They are not in the Senate version of the public safety bill that passed earlier this month. Moeller said supporters hope the red flag and background check provisions will survive when a conference committee negotiates the final version.
While House Democrats had enough of a majority to pass the overall bill, including the gun safety provisions, Senate Democrats only hold a one-seat majority. Some Democratic senators from rural districts where hunting, shooting sports and gun ownership are traditions avoided taking a stand.
Rob Doar, a lobbyist with the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said in an interview that he’s “pretty confident” there won’t be enough votes in the Senate for a red flag bill. He said he expects, however, Senate support for background check language that is stronger than the current law but does not go as far as the House bill.
Democratic House Majority Leader Jamie Long of Minneapolis said recent school shootings show the need for both provisions. He told reporters how his daughter came home a few weeks ago and told them about a shelter-in-place drill they did at her preschool.
“We have an epidemic of gun violence in our country and in our state, and right now we’re putting it on our children. And they shouldn’t,” Long said. “We’re at a point where adults have to step up and protect our kids and make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep them safe.”
While Long was not optimistic about getting Republican votes for the bill, he noted that GOP Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has proposed something similar to a red flag law and that red flag laws have gained support in some states tomatoes. Lee frames his proposal as “temporary mental health protection orders” and says it’s not a red flag law. But top Republicans there disagree, and her chances are fading. Tennessee has become a flashpoint in the national debate following last month’s shooting at a Nashville school that killed three children and three adults.
The top Republican on the Public Safety Committee, Rep. Paul Novotny of Elk River said at a news conference that the red flag proposal would violate due process and Second Amendment rights. He said the background check provision, which would apply to more types of gun transfers than current state law, would create “strict and impractical” obstacles for law-abiding citizens who want to sell, give or to lend weapons to others.
The public safety bill also includes money to recruit police officers, changes to the probation system aimed at reducing recidivism, increased penalties for fentanyl dealers and grants to local nonprofits for violence prevention programs.
“This is a transformative bill that has a positive impact on the safety of all Minnesotans across the state,” Moller said.