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After years of stalemate, Democrats see opportunity for gun control measures with total control of Minnesota government

Minnesota Democrats: Now is the time to take action to prevent gun violence
Minnesota Democrats: Now is the time to take action to prevent gun violence 02:12

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With a newfound trifecta in state government, Democrats see an opportunity next session to pass gun control measures that have stalled in recent years because of pushback from Republicans in the Senate.

During an appearance on WCCO Sunday Morning soon after November's election last month, DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman listed gun violence prevention among four issues her caucus would pass "quickly" when the legislature convenes in January.

In 2020, the chamber approved expanding criminal background checks for all gun purchases and transfers. It also passed legislation allowing extreme risk protection orders, so-called "red flag" laws that allow law enforcement, and in some cases, a family member to petition that a judge temporarily restricts someone's ability to have firearms if they are determined to be a risk to themselves or others.

That effort failed in the GOP-led Senate. Nineteen states and Washington, D.C., passed "red flag" measures, according to the Giffords Law Center.

Both bills are top priorities for the Minnesota chapter of Moms Demand Action. Molly Leutz, the state leader for the group, expressed confidence and excitement that the legislation is likely to pass next year.

"We're really excited, the sense of urgency to make a difference here and save lives," Leutz said.

Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, who has previously authored versions of both policy proposals, said he would re-introduce the background check bill next year and predicts that red flag legislation will also pass. Members of the Senate DFL earlier this summer also said they want to raise the age to purchase a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21.

Under federal law, most other firearm sales are prohibited to people under 21.

"Our country has an epidemic of gun violence that really goes beyond other countries we want to compare to, so addressing that is gonna take multiple tools," Pinto said. "They're not going to prevent every instance of gun violence, but we do know from the states that have them that they do reduce the number of those gun deaths."  


MinnPost poll after the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, earlier this year found 64% of Minnesotans were favor implementing a red flag law and 69% raising the age to legally purchase a weapon to 21. 

"The DFL has led on these issues in the past, so we do feel confident with a DFL majority that this is our chance to move forward," Leutz said. "We haven't been able to have hearings in the Senate for a really long time on these important issues, so I think the chance to be heard and have these conversations is really exciting."

But the renewed push next year won't be without similar pushback, even Democrats have the votes to advance the proposals.

Rob Doar, vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, voiced opposition to both proposals Democrats are discussing for next year. He raised concerns about the red flag law proposal, arguing that it deprives an individual of due process in court. He also believes expanded background checks to cover all gun transfers -- including those among friends and family -- would create bureaucratic hurdles.

"It adds a lot of unnecessary burdens to law-abiding gun owners, while not addressing any of the actual people who we're worried about getting guns," Doar said.

He also pointed to Virginia and Colorado, two states with red flag laws where there were recent mass shootings at a Walmart and Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub.

"If the goal is to end mass shootings, we're going to need different strategies because we know these laws don't stop mass shootings, but they have a tremendous effect on the rights of law-abiding gun owners," Doar added.

He believes there is room for compromise with Democrats on improving Minnesota's safe storage laws and going after straw purchases of guns.

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