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How gun rights are restored in Minnesota following a lifetime ban

How people get their gun rights restored after a lifetime ban
How people get their gun rights restored after a lifetime ban 04:55

MINNEAPOLIS — The fatal shooting of three first responders in Burnsville in February raised questions about gun rights. The killer couldn't legally have a gun or ammo because of a prior conviction for a violent felony — but he did file a petition to the courts to overturn his lifetime ban. A Dakota County judge said no in 2020.

One-thousand-four-hundred-forty-eight petitions were filed over the last five years in Minnesota. The courts approved more than half of them, all from people who wanted to get back their right to have a gun and ammo in Minnesota, including Troy Horning.

"I think it just goes to show you know, that you're giving people a second chance," Horning said.

Even though it's considered a lifetime ban, it isn't for everyone. To get a better understanding of the data, we focused on Dakota County. WCCO found since 2019, 109 people there tried to have their gun rights restored. Of those, 72 succeeded. 

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Their rights were taken away for convictions involving drug offenses, assault, theft and terroristic threats.

Inside these petitions are their pleas for restoration. 

LaShaun wrote, "I have paid my debt back to society." 

Another, "I am an upstanding citizen who cares about my community."

Anna said, "I went to treatment in December of 2010 and have been sober since." 

Horning's drug offense was 20 years ago.

"So just to show that how much I've changed. You know what I'm saying? You know, I've opened a business now — GQ Stucco and Stone and I've done tremendous stuff, gave back to the community, donate money to churches and stuff like that," Horning said.

Many whose petitions were approved cited hunting as their driving force. Others wanted a gun for personal protection or simply just wanted the right to have one.

"It's people that have been law-abiding. You know, grown up enough and understand enough the responsibility of carrying a live firearm," Horning said when asked who deserves to have their rights restored.

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Over the past five years in Dakota County, judges denied petitions for at least 10 people, including Shannon Gooden. He ended up getting guns illegally, then used the weapons to fire more than 100 rifle rounds at first responders in Burnsville, killing three and injuring another.

"First of all, are they being truthful and honest?" senior judge Jerome Abrams said when asked what he takes into consideration when looking at a petition.

He sat on the bench in Dakota County for a decade.

"How do people get into this? And it's a time and place type of thing. Did they do it when they were younger, did they do it when they were older, you look very carefully at this notion. Was a firearm used in whatever circumstance gave rise to this ban on firearms," Abrams said.

Judges may grant a petition, but Abrams says there's no obligation. They're guided by the statute and it's up to petitioners to provide "good cause" in order to be approved.

"You know it when you see it. It's situational, so what is good cause? It's something that's legally sufficient but usually, the filter you apply is on is, the fancy legal word for it is circumspection. That is you want to be wary, you want to be careful," Abrams said.

Petitions we saw denied had a similar theme: The original charge involved a gun, the person remains a threat to public safety, not enough time has passed or there are recent charges.

A judge denied Anthony Wallace's petition last year.

"It's not remaining law-abiding," Wallace said. "Had some other things since, but not serious things."

He thinks errors in his file contributed to his denial. 

In the paperwork, the judge noted, "Even if those ... are subtracted" his threat to public safety remains.

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Wallace plans to try again when he's next allowed in 2025.

"I don't think nothing should be a lifetime ban because what you do right now you also grow yourself," Wallace said.

WCCO found other petitions were dismissed, withdrawn, referred to another county or postponed. 

Click here for information about who has a permanent ban on gun rights and how to have them restored.

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