Minnesota bills requiring safe storage, mandatory reporting of stolen guns get a second look at the capitol this year

Minnesota lawmakers make gun control a top priority in upcoming 2024 legislative session

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Gun safety advocates are urging the state legislature to pass two measures this year that would implement new rules for firearms owners on how to secure their guns and what to do if they go missing.

Protect Minnesota, a local group working to end gun violence, hosted a news conference Wednesday to outline its legislative agenda, which includes a safe storage law and a mandatory reporting requirement for lost or stolen guns. The two proposals were tabled last year as the focus became expanding background checks and implementing a "red flag" law—both of which cleared the DFL-controlled capitol after a years-long effort. 

"Those are all going to make our community safer. But we know that when we're losing almost 600 people here in our state to gun violence, we haven't yet done enough to curb this epidemic," said Maggiy Emery, executive director of Protect Minnesota.

Under the first proposal, all guns would need to be locked and unloaded, separate from ammunition, when it's not being carried or used by the person authorized to have it. Another bill would require gun owners to report to law enforcement lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours of realizing they're missing. 

Rep. Kaohly Vang Her, DFL-St. Paul called the proposals "common sense" and said she believes notifying police of missing guns can curb straw purchases, or when somebody legally buys a gun for someone else who is prohibited from owning one, like a person convicted of a felony that's a violent crime. 

Federally licensed firearms dealers must report within 48 hours if there's lost or stolen inventory, but 95% of stolen guns are from thefts of individuals, according to the U.S.  Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Nationwide, there were more than one million guns stolen from 2017 to 2021, the bureau said, though it acknowledged "significant underreporting."

"Without a reporting law, straw purchasers can simply claim that a gun that they bought and gave to a prohibited person was lost or taken in an unreported theft," Her said. 

The renewed effort to pass these bills comes in wake of the devastating shooting Sunday in Burnsville, when three first responders were killed while responding to a 911 call about a sexual assault. The man who shot them had "multiple weapons", warrants show, though he was barred from owning firearms due to his prior criminal history. 

When asked if Sunday's tragedy provides any impetus to act, DFL lawmakers said gun safety has been an policy push for years. 

"This is not a Republican or Democrat issue," Her said. "We all know that gun violence is on the rise and that we want to put sensible gun violence prevention measures into place. And so all of these additional incidents are just reinforcing the fact that this is a long-standing issue that we've all been working very hard to address."

Rob Doar, senior vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said it's common practice among lawful gun owners to report stolen guns and that his group doesn't have significant concerns with the policy, though he questioned if having a law requiring that they do that would accomplish its desired outcomes. 

"Telling responsible gun owners that they have to do something that they're already doing isn't going to change the landscape as far as stopping the people who are worried about getting guns from getting guns," he told reporters.

But he is worried about the safe storage legislation. He said it would make having a firearm at home for self-defense useless and that the policy runs afoul of precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"What we don't want to see is people funneling firearms to people who are going to be dangerous with them," Doar said. "Adding some certainty of enforcement—which we know is the strongest way to achieve compliance with laws, if people are certain that they're going to be prosecuted—and that the penalty will be enforced, that's going to be the best thing we can do for public safety."

Under current law, it is a gross misdemeanor to purchase or transfer a gun to a person who is barred from having one. Doar said it should be a felony; there was a bill to increase the penalty last year from some Republicans, but it didn't advance.

Monica Jones implored the legislature Wednesday to pass both proposals. Through tears, she shared how her son, Da'Qwan was killed at age 17, after a friend accidentally shot him with a stolen gun while they were hanging out in her basement. 

"We have to start holding gun owners accountable for their carelessness," she said. "My son would be alive today if that gun was safely secure.

Rep. Cedric Frazier, DFL-New Hope, also introduced a bill so Medicaid will reimburse for violence prevention services. Nationwide, two-thirds of gunshot survivors are on Medicaid or are uninsured. Other states have passed similar measures

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