ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota's county attornies have endorsed a slate of bills in the state legislature that would grant prosecutors more power to charge certain types of released felons with firearms violations.
"These changes are focusing on people who have already committed crimes of violence, and making sure that if they carry guns or other instruments that can hurt people they will quickly go back to prison," Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told reporters at the State Capitol Thursday.
Freeman was joined by Sen. Ron Latz, a St. Louis Park Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee as well as Rep. John Lesch, a St. Paul Democrat and longtime prosecutor who heads the House Civil Law Committee.
They say the bill's handful of changes are aimed at cutting gun violence by giving prosecutors tools to crack down on gun possession by people convicted of violent crimes, or ruled by a judge to be dangerous.
"This aggressive package to close up loopholes, and make sure we can take measures to keep you safe, does not implicate those constitutional rights," Rep. Lesch remarked.
"That's because these individuals have already been adjudicated. They been found guilty by a judge or a jury of their peers."
One of those loopholes involves domestic assault. Under current Minnesota regulations someone who goes to prison for trying to strangle someone during a domestic attack would still be allowed to possess a firearm upon release.
That's because Minnesota's prohibition against gun possession by released felons only applies to those offenses deemed "crimes of violence." And currently several forms of domestic abuse are not classified as crimes of violence in the gun ownership statutes.
"There are crimes of violence, as defined in the statute, that do give us great concern, such as domestic abuse by strangulation, felony domestic abuse, felony 5th degree assault," Sen. Latz explained.
"And if there's an emotional history of conflict between spouses or other member of the household, as domestic abuse is defined, that's an area of great risk."
The other provisions of the package of legislation include:
- Allowing prosecutors to charge juvenile offenders in adult court with gun possession if they have multiple violations at the juvenile level.
- Prohibiting felons from having ammunition in their possession, even if no gun is visible during the arrest
- Making it a crime for anyone to help a violent released felons obtain firearms or conceal them.
- Barring persons with civil commitments from buying guns, even if that commitment order was put on hold.
Latz announced that his Senate committee will hold hearings on all the gun bills on the afternoon of Feb. 21 and evening of Feb. 22 at the Capitol.
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