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Expanding background checks, "red flag" law still up for consideration in Minnesota Legislature

Gun safety advocates push for reform at state capitol
Gun safety advocates push for reform at state capitol 02:35

ST. PAUL, Minn. – As the country reels from another mass shooting, gun safety advocates in Minnesota could score two key policy victories this session they've been pushing for years in the state legislature: Expanding background checks and implementing a "red flag" law.

Several other proposals likely won't make it over the finish line.

On Monday, six were killed, including three children, at a private Christian grade school in Nashville, renewing calls for more gun restrictions and safety measures. Gov. Tim Walz ordered flags to be flown at half-staff through Friday to remember the victims.

"If you're tweeting defending an inanimate object today, rather than talking about children, you are on the wrong side of history," Walz said during a news conference Wednesday.

Federal law requires background checks for all gun purchases made at federally-licensed firearms dealers, but there is a loophole for some sales. The bill at the Capitol would extend those screenings to all sales and transfers, including private loans and gifts of firearms. Twenty-one states have passed similar laws, according to the Giffords Law Center.

A "red flag" law authorizes extreme risk protection orders. The policy would allow law enforcement or a family member to petition a court to temporarily restrict a person's access to firearms if deemed a harm to themselves or others.

The governor's budget proposal calls for those two bills and for several gun-related measures, including raising the age to by a military-style weapon to 21 and mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement.

But the door is all but closed to most of those ideas at the Capitol this year. Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee chair Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said background checks and extreme risk protection orders represent the "totality of the gun bills" that he will bring forward in his committee.  


Maggiy Emery, interim executive director of Protect Minnesota, a gun violence prevention advocacy group, said these changes are have been top priorities for her organization for years. She cited polls suggesting support for them and is excited the bills are closer than ever to passing this year.

"Every time we see a tragedy like the one that happened in Nashville or even the tragedy that happened in Brooklyn Center over the weekend, we're reminded that gun violence is something present for everyone," Emery said.

The number of Minnesotans dying from gunfire hit a 20-year high in 2021, according to a Minnesota Reformer report on federal data. Data analysis by Protect Minnesota found that more than 570 people in this state died by a firearm that year. 

"Anyone who's lost a loved one to gun violence, whether that be a mass shooting, whether that be a suicide or anything in between, can tell you that a little bit of an extra hurdle -- a 20-second background check -- is nothing compared to losing someone you love to gun violence," she said.

On the other side of the debate, opponents of these proposals say they create hurdles for law-abiding gun owners. And they argue red flag laws deprive people of due process -- and don't help them if they're in a crisis.

"Doing something isn't as good as doing something that is effective. And just merely casting a wide net and infringing on the rights of peaceful gun owners isn't actually going to resolve the crisis," said Rob Doar, vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus.   

Doar says he hopes to find common ground on taking steps to helping people who are facing mental health issues.

"We need to actually look at the individuals in crisis, providing the supports there, instead of thinking that just removing someone's guns is going to be a resolution to these issues," he said.

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 even more, 74%, support stronger background check rules.

Those provisions are up for consideration in a public safety spending package proposal that will be ironed out in the next few weeks, as lawmakers sort through details of the next two-year state budget.

When asked about the bills on Wednesday, Walz said the effort doesn't go far enough, but welcomed passage of both proposals at the legislature.

"For those who say, 'Is that going to be enough to fix it all?' If it fixes one, I'll take it," he said.

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