Minnesota lawmakers considering ‘red flag’ law, background check expansion

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The Minnesota House was considering a ‘red flag law’ on Tuesday to allow the temporary confiscation of guns from people judged to be an immediate threat to themselves or others, as well as a proposal for expanded background checks for firearms transfers.

The two gun measures are part of a wide-ranging public safety bill that lawmakers were expected to debate late into the night before ultimately passing it.

‘Every other industrialized nation in the world can find a way to keep their freedoms and not kill their children and their citizens,’ Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said during a rally on the Capitol steps. ‘We can have both.’

First on the House agenda for the day, however, was the completion of work that started Monday night on a contentious bill to legalize recreational marijuana. It passed 71-59. The Senate is scheduled to vote Friday on its own cannabis bill.

The public safety bill was last on the day’s agenda. Republicans pre-filed over 30 amendments to various provisions of the public safety bill, portending a long debate.

‘We tackle gun violence head-on in this bill,’ Democratic Rep. Kelly Moller, of Shoreview, chair of the House Public Safety Committee, told reporters. ‘These are common-sense measures that our constituents for years have been telling us that they want.’

The proposals have gained traction in Minnesota this year now that Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office, even as the national debate over preventing gun violence becomes increasingly polarized.

In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a background check bill earlier this month and said she would sign a red flag law that is still being negotiated if it reaches her desk. But in Colorado, Democratic lawmakers killed a bill Thursday that would have banned the sale and transfer of semiautomatic firearms, illustrating that even Democratic-controlled statehouses don’t have free rein when it comes to overhauling gun laws.

And it’s not clear yet if either of the two Minnesota gun measures can get through the Senate and make it to the desk of Walz, who has pledged to sign them if they do. They aren’t in the Senate version of the public safety bill, which passed earlier this month. Moeller said supporters hope the red flag and background check provisions survive when a conference committee negotiates the final version.

While House Democrats had enough of a majority to pass the overall bill, including the gun safety provisions, Senate Democrats hold only a one-seat majority. Some Democratic senators from rural districts where hunting, shooting sports and gun ownership are traditions have avoided taking stands.

Rob Doar, a lobbyist with the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said in an interview that he’s ‘pretty confident’ there won’t be enough votes in the Senate for a red flag law. He said he does expect Senate support, however, for background check language that’s stronger than current law but doesn’t go as far as the House bill.

Democratic House Majority Leader Jamie Long, of Minneapolis, said recent school shootings show the need for both provisions. He recounted to reporters how his young daughter came home a few weeks ago and told him about a shelter-in-place drill that they had conducted at her preschool.

‘We have a gun violence epidemic in our country and in our state, and right now we are putting this on our kids. And we shouldn’t,’ Long said. ‘We are at a point where the adults need to step up and protect our kids and make sure that we are doing everything we can to keep them safe.’

While Long wasn’t optimistic about getting Republican votes for the bill, he noted that GOP Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has proposed something similar to a red flag law, and that red flag laws have won support in some red states. Lee frames his proposal as ‘temporary mental health orders of protection’ and says it’s not a red flag law. But top Republicans there don’t agree, and its chances are fading. Tennessee has become a flashpoint in the national debate in the wake of last month’s shooting at a Nashville school that killed three children and three adults.

The lead Republican on the Public Safety Committee, Rep. Paul Novotny, of Elk River, said at a news conference that the red flag proposal would violate due process and Second Amendment rights. He said the background check provision, which would apply to more kinds of gun transfers than current state law requires, would create ‘strict and impractical’ hurdles for law-abiding citizens who want to sell, give or loan guns to others.

The public safety bill also includes money for recruiting police officers, changes to the probation system aimed at reducing recidivism, increased penalties for fentanyl dealers, and grants for local nonprofits for violence prevention programs.

‘This is a transformational bill that positively impacts the safety of every Minnesotans across the state,’ Moller said.

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