Minnesota House committee furthers four gun control bills

By: - February 3, 2023 4:28 pm

Minnesota Medical Association President Dr. William Nicholson, right, testified in support a bill authored by Rep. Dave Pinto, left, at the Capitol on Friday, Feb. 3. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

A Minnesota House committee on Friday approved four gun control bills that would mandate safe firearm storage, expand background checks, create a “red flag” law to seize guns from people deemed dangerous, and require gun owners to promptly notify law enforcement if their firearms are stolen.

The bills’ passage through the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee catalyzed heated debate among Minnesotans over how to address gun violence. Gov. Tim Walz and the DFL-controlled Legislature have vowed to enact gun control legislation this session.

Friday’s hearing included tearful testimony from the relatives of people who have died of gun violence as well as passionate pleas from gun rights advocates to strike down the bills. 

Much of the legislation had support from key law enforcement groups, like the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, which represents over 10,000 law enforcement officers. The group testified in support of the legislation for safe storage, expansion of background checks and mandatory reporting of stolen guns; the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association testified in support of the background checks and the red flag law, which would allow authorities to seize a gun after a judicial hearing determined the gun owner is a threat to themselves or others.

“Gun violence impacts families, children, health care, education … and our society as a whole,” said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Bob Jacobson on Friday. “This is a great action step.”

Joyce Hayden, whose daughter Taylor died from gun violence in 2016, pleaded with lawmakers to pass the bills. Taylor Hayden was the sister of former state Sen. Jeff Hayden.

“We can do something to end gun violence. We don’t have to live with this trauma,” Joyce Hayden said. “We shouldn’t have to be telling our stories. We’ve heard way too many.”

Opponents of the bills — including the National Rifle Association and the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus — said the bills would be ineffective and infringe on people’s right to own a gun.

“These bills will not do anything to reduce gun violence in Minnesota,” said Brian Gosch, an NRA lobbyist. “It’s only going to put obstacles and burdens in the path of law-abiding citizens to own, use, possess and enjoy firearms.”

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, is the chief author of a bill that would mandate safe storage, requiring gun owners to keep their unloaded firearms in a locked container when they aren’t carrying or using them. The bill by Becker-Finn, a former prosecutor and avid hunter, also requires people to store ammunition separately.

Lawmakers then moved onto the bill expanding background checks for firearm sales, authored by Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, who is also a Ramsey County prosecutor. The bill would require criminal background checks for private sales of firearms, including military-style semi-automatic rifles. Supporters of the bill say this would help ensure guns don’t fall into the wrong hands. Twenty-one states currently have some sort of universal background check law.

Dr. William Nicholson, president of the Minnesota Medical Association, testified about the gun violence sweeping the country.*

“I’m confident that opponents to this legislation will tell you that expanded background checks won’t prevent all firearm death injuries, and they’re right,” Nicholson said. “There’s no guarantee this legislation will prevent all deaths, all injuries but just because something won’t fix everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearm injuries are the leading cause of death among children up to 19 years old, even surpassing car crashes. 

The committee also debated and passed a so-called red flag law, which would allow family members or law enforcement to petition to prohibit a person from temporarily possessing a firearm. Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, authored the legislation, which would create an “extreme risk protection order.” Nineteen other states have red flag laws.

Finally, the committee approved a bill authored by Rep. Kaohly Vang Her, DFL-St. Paul, that would require gun owners to notify law enforcement within 48 hours of noticing their firearm missing.

House Republicans were fervently against the four gun control bills. 

Rep. Matt Grossell, a Republican from Clearbrook and a retired law enforcement officer, accused the Minnesota Peace Officers Association and the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association of being “politically manipulated.”

“I’m sorry that they’ve allowed themselves to be politically manipulated,” Grossell said. “But you better take a look around you, folks, and remember who you serve. It’s the citizens of this state.”

Democrats applauded the testifiers, pledging legislative action after years of gridlock. 

“The reality is, gun violence is an American problem,” Frazier said in a statement. “Gun safety should not be a divisive matter. Protecting our families from violence and harm should not be divisive.

Correction: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the comments of Dr. William Nicholson.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.