ST PAUL, Minn. — For the first time in four years the gun control issue has returned to the Minnesota State Capitol.
The House Public Safety Committee Friday passed four measures intended to reduce gun violence, including universal background checks and red flag protection orders. The bills passed on straight party-line votes, with all Republicans opposed and all Democrats in favor.
Supporters of those measures are accustomed to fighting an uphill battle, but they say they feel more hopeful this year because both the House and the Senate are controlled by Democrats for the first time in nearly a decade.
"We know responsible gun owners don't want their firearms going to dangerous felons," Rep. Dave Pinto, a St. Paul Democrat, told his colleagues.
Pinto's bill would require anyone selling a handgun or a semi-automatic rifle to have law enforcement or a registered gun dealer perform a background check on the prospective buyer. It's something federally licensed firearms dealers already do, but Pinto's bill would extend that to private transactions between individuals.
"And, folks, there should be responsibility for where your gun is going, and the thing is you have to have a background check in order to do that."
Bryan Strawser, the chairman of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, testified in opposition to Pinto's bill. He said it will create a burden on lawful gun owners while failing to accomplish the goal of keeping guns out of the wrong hands.
"If this bill becomes law, it’s not going to stop theft. It’s not going to stop straw purchases. And it’s not going to stop the 'trunk loads of guns' Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey says are coming into Minneapolis."
The red flags bill being carried by Rep. Cedrick Frazier, a New Hope Democrat, would allow relatives or police to petition a judge to issue an extreme risk protection order, allowing law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from a person deemed at risk of causing bodily harm to himself or others.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi testified in support of Frazier's bill.
"Family members are living this every day, but oftentimes they go to government and can’t get solutions about what they can do. This allows a very clear path," Choi told lawmakers.
Opponents assert the process could be abused, and that judges could be misled by those who petition for the protection orders. They assert the focus should be on helping the person in a mental health crisis rather than confiscating his guns.
"You can’t go into somebody’s house, remove the guns, and leave all the knives in the kitchen, a medicine cabinet full of pills, rope in the shed, a Ford F-150 pickup in the garage and think that person is now safe," Rob Doar, vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owner's Caucus, testified.
The hearing included tearful testimony from people who've lost loved ones to gunshot wounds, through crimes and accidental shootings. They told of the lasting emotional impact of suddenly losing a family member, and how it continues to traumatize them.