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Minnesota Legislature

Gun measures fail first votes in public safety conference committee

House Photography file photo

When successive votes Tuesday failed to incorporate DFL-backed gun-control measures into the omnibus public safety finance bill, spectators wondered whether the provisions had truly failed.

The answer is complicated.

Although the conference committee did not incorporate House-approved firearm background check and “red-flag” provisions into its bill, SF802, conferees have more work to do. So DFL conferees will have another the opportunity.

But any future outcome will likely be as it was Tuesday, with each motion failing on a 5-5 party-line, roll-call vote.

After more than two hours of being briefed on the gun-control provisions (Section 14 and Section 15 in the House version of the bill), committee co-chair Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) called for the votes.

One provision would require a buyer background check for transfer of a pistol or semiautomatic military-style assault weapon, including those among private parties. Some exceptions would be provided for, such as a transfer involving a firearms dealer or law enforcement agency, an exchange between immediate family members or a temporary transfer if it “is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.”

Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), who sponsored the provision as HF8, said firearm background check laws are supported by a vast majority of the public and that similar legislation adopted in several other states “has been proven to save lives.”

Gun-control opponents spoke of their belief that individual sale background checks would be ineffective at stopping criminals intent on ignoring such laws, and would penalize responsible gun owners who make errors during the sale of a firearm.

“These laws are much more likely to catch a good person in a paperwork mistake than they are to catch or obstruct a criminal who’s already entering the illicit gun market,” said Rob Doar, vice president and political director for the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus.

The other gun-control proposal, originally introduced as HF9, would permit law enforcement, and city or county attorneys, to petition a court for an extreme risk protection order to prohibit someone from possessing a firearm for between six months and two years if they pose a “significant danger” to themselves or others by possessing a firearm.

“Here in Minnesota, we have a definite public health crisis when it comes to gun deaths and suicides,” said Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights), who sponsors the so-called “red flag” bill.

Of 465 gun deaths in Minnesota in 2017, Richardson said 78 percent of those were suicide.

Representing the National Rifle Association, Brian Gosch expressed “serious concerns” about the lack of due process in the proposal that, if enacted, would “erode civil liberties while failing to address mental health issues.”

He specifically pointed out the level of proof for a court-ordered gun removal would be a “preponderance of evidence,” which he characterized as an insufficient level of proof to take away a person’s constitutional rights.

Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) countered that the preponderance level of proof is a standard level for liability in almost all civil cases.

These pieces of gun-control legislation are “good, modest proposals,” he said. "... It would be almost grossly negligent not to take a step like this."

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