Major Public Safety and Gun Legislation Bills Signed Into Law (and Some of the Debates Against Them)

Signed into law May 19. Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan were joined by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, legislators, and gun safety advocates. 

Late on May 15, the House passed SF 2909, the Judiciary and Public Safety budget conference committee report with a 69-63 vote. It was signed into law on May 19 by Governor Tim Walz. In response to increasing gun violence, now the leading cause of death for children in the U.S., the bill includes a number of violence prevention measures. It requires:

  • background checks on all handgun and semi-automatic military-style assault weapon sales;
  • an Extreme Risk law, which allows loved ones and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily restrict access to firearms by those deemed to be at risk of harming themselves and others; 
  • millions of dollars in funding for Community Violence Intervention programming, which are aimed at reducing gunshot woundings and deaths in the neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence;
  • restrictions on the use of no-knock warrants, which allows police officers to enter and search premises without first knocking and announcing their presence. 

The Minnesota chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action noted that six Moms Demand Action volunteers won their elections last fall. Four of them were elected to the State Senate, flipping the chamber to provide a one-seat gun sense majority.

The bill also includes many other pieces of legislation introduced earlier in the session, including a bill from Rep. Alicia Kozlowski (DFL-Duluth) to invest $1.5 million in First Witness Child Advocacy Center, which has been serving northern Minnesota families for nearly 32 years to address child abuse and provide violence prevention support for families. 

An included provision from Rep. Esther Agbaje enables free voice communication from state prisons.   She said, “Incarceration can take a toll on mental and physical health, but research has shown that regular contact with family members can help to improve both.”     

According to her news release, prison telecom is a billion-dollar industry dominated by private-equity-backed corporations that make hundreds of millions each year exploiting family ties. For years in Minnesota, the state compounded the predatory rates the industry charged by adding a 40 percent commission on calls that amounted to $1.4 million annually. This bill begins to put an end to that practice. 

Update May 12 from a Minnesota Reformer story: Republican legislators indicated they are not happy about background checks and red flag language in the omnibus public safety bill, indicating there was no public notice or testimony from gun owners as the legislation was being finalized.

Following is some of the testimony of those who spoke out against the legislation in earlier sessions.

Video of the recent floor debate can be found on the House Information Youtube page.

“Red Flag” Law Related to Firearm Ownership

In a Public Safety committee discussion in late February, the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus objected to what would become a provision in the Senate omnibus public safety and judiciary bill (SF2909) to restrict gun ownership for certain people. The provision derived from SF1117 (aka red flag law) that allows law enforcement and family members to ask a court to prohibit people who could be dangerous from owning a gun.

SF1117 would prohibit sales to:

  • people under the age of 18;
  • a person who has been convicted of a violent crime;
  • someone with a judicial determination of mental illness and danger unless the right to own a firearm has been restored;
  • a person who has been convicted of assaulting a household member using a firearm unless three years have elapsed;
  • anyone who is subject to an order for protection; a person who has been convicted at the gross misdemeanor level of crimes committed for the benefit of a gang,
  • a bias-motivated assault, harassment or stalking; and other details.

The Caucus indicated this bill was a hurdle for “law-abiding citizens who wish to exercise their Second Amendment right to purchase and possess firearms for self-defense while not doing anything to stop the flow of firearms in the criminal, illicit gun market that operates in Minnesota.”

The Caucus also objected to creating a paperwork trail with law enforcement, firearm dealers, and private citizens that is, in effect, a registry of firearms and their owners, and can “disenfranchise marginalized populations from exercising their constitutional rights.”

See SF1117 details.

Thanks to support from Vote Run Lead, we are able to do deeper dives on a few issues we are following this legislative session, in collaboration with The Uptake reporter Cirien Saadeh

House Debate on Red Flag Laws

Our story from March 28 — The “red flag” law has been adopted in 19 states and the District of Columbia, many of them enacted after a school shooting in Florida in 2018. This Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law gives family members, law enforcement, and sometimes medical professionals, coworkers, and school officials a way to petition the courts to temporarily seize or prevent the purchase of firearms by someone who is in a mental health crisis and in danger of harming self or others.

There are several bills designed to address gun homicides and suicides in Minnesota, including a red flag law. HF15 was introduced to the Minnesota House Public Safety and Finance committee by Rep. Cedric Frazier in March, who indicated that we need many tools to help prevent unnecessary deaths, and this bill was just one of them.

The Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety, Bob Jacobsen, testified that these orders give people who notice warning signs an ability to raise concerns to the legal system. He said most people are aware of homicide rates, but suicide is a more prevalent use of firearms. “Much like criminal background checks,” he said, “this bill will not fix every issue or remove every gun from every dangerous location, but I do believe it will help. It will give family, friends, and law enforcement a way to intervene before something truly terrible happens.”

He pointed out that firearms are used in almost half of the documented domestic violence homicides in Minnesota.

Rachel Joseph testified about the murder of her aunt at the Hennepin County Government Center, who was killed by a distant relative who had been threatening her aunt for months. She said: “Despite documentation of this person’s erratic, terrifying, and dangerous behavior, my aunt’s stalker was able to show up to a Minnesota gun show, pay a private seller $60, and walk out with a .38 revolver. She then used that gun to shoot my aunt’s lawyer in the throat at point blank range. Then she used it to hunt and murder my aunt in a courthouse bathroom. Had Shelley been able to go before a civil court to seek an Extreme Risk Protective Order, her killer may have never gained access to that gun.”

Joseph added, “Shelley’s murderer chose to use a gun for a reason. No one was able to help my aunt Shelley. Not the armed deputy who was there that day, not the security guard who ran away when he saw the gun. The presence of good guys with guns didn’t make my aunt Shelley safer.”

Sponsored by Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-District 40A, Shoreview), the amended HF2890/SF2909* contains language from HF1580, the omnibus judiciary finance bill, and HF2890, the Moller-sponsored omnibus public safety finance and policy bill.

John Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, testified that the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, representing 87 county attorneys across the State of Minnesota, was in “strong support” of the bill. “This allows a very clear path so that something can be done to prevent the tragedies we see time and time again,” he said.

Dr. William Nicholson, president of the Minnesota Medical Association, said studies have shown that red flag laws reduce rates of suicide. He offered data from Indiana and Connecticut. “Opponents to the bill will say that individuals who wish to take their own lives would simply find another way to do so,” he said. “As a physician, I can tell you that is not accurate. Suicide attempts by firearms are dramatically more lethal than other means.”

People Who Testified Against the Bill

Daniel Ward, of the Gun Owners Caucus, indicated the bill was not thought through properly. He shared a fictional example of a son calling police on his parents for taking away his Xbox, telling police they have guns and are going to cause harm. “Law enforcement kicks in the door, and now we’ve got a mess of consequences that no one thought of here”

He added that the committee should consider veterans who have guns, and people might report on them “because of a bad situation, such as a romantic situation that did not work out.”

Tim Christopher, also of the Gun Owners Caucus, said he was concerned for the Black community because more situations, such as the death of Amir Locke from a no-knock raid by police, could happen. “This bill really scares me and I feel it will hurt us more than it will help us,” he said. “Because Black people don’t tell. Like they say, snitches get stitches in our community. Nobody is going to tell on somebody who has a gun, but I believe it can be used by law enforcement to burst into somebody’s house unannounced.  … You don’t see a lot of Black people up here, because we’re afraid to tell you that we’ve got guns. When you let Philando Castile get murdered, and that man walked away scotch-free, we don’t show you our firearms. I don’t show you what I got on my hip. I fight for it.”

Rob Door, of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said he is an emergency medical technician. There are 72-hour holds for medical evaluation and domestic violence, which addresses the person who is in crisis. “What the red flag law does is that it operates under the presumption that this situation is so urgent we can’t afford to bring this person to court, but we get an order, we knock on their door, take their firearms. And now that the firearms are gone, the situation is fine. That is an entirely false premise. Let’s actually address the individuals in crisis, not operate under a false premise that it is the firearms that are the danger in that situation.”

He added: “We cannot go into somebody’s house, remove the firearms, leave all the knives in the kitchen, a medicine cabinet full of pills, rope in the shed, a Ford F150 in the garage, and think that that person is now safe and not a danger to themselves or others.”

Public Testifiers

Joan Peterson, from the Cloquet/Duluth branch of the “Northland Brady Chapter,” testified that she has worked for gun legislation for 20 years. “In 1992, the year my sister Barbara was killed [by her estranged husband], there were 37,776 victims of gun violence. Last year, an all-time high of 44,299 lives were lost to bullets. If this many people died of any other cause, we would declare it a national emergency. The fact that we have not is an American tragedy.”

Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI-MN and co-chair of the Mental Health Legislative Network, testified that in 2020, 733 people died by suicide in Minnesota. “Time is key to preventing suicide. To help them see that the crisis won’t last, and connect them with someone that can help, is why limiting access to lethal means is so important.”

She indicated that a 72-hour hold would not work because right now law enforcement is not always acting on mental health professionals concerns about suicide.

Brian Gosch, a registered lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, said the gun legislation bills “will not do anything to reduce gun violence in Minnesota and representatives [Grossell, Novotny, and Hudson] nailed it when they said that it’s only going to put obstacles and burdens in the path of law-abiding citizens to own, use, possess, and enjoy a firearm.”

He pointed out that a California red-flag law could not prevent a recent mass shooting and a school shooting. “The bill allows for low standards of proof for the seizure of firearms.”

Kelly Roskam, Director of Law and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Violence Solutions , has worked on ERPOs in 17 states and DC, and was born and raised in Minnesota. She testified: “These laws are narrowly tailored, respect constitutional rights, and are effective at reducing gun violence. They are modeled significantly after domestic violence restraining orders and incorporate all of the due process protections. The petitioner, or law enforcement, or household member has to request an order from a judicial officer. They bear the burden of proving that person represents a significant risk of harm to themselves or to others.”

She said, “One study of Connecticut’s law between 1989 and 2013 determined that for every 10 to 20 orders issued, at least one suicide was prevented. Now that may sound very small, but one person means an awful lot to a lot of people.”

Rep. Paul Novotny (R–30B) used to work in law enforcement. He said, “I think the ambush part of this is what gives me the biggest concern and what I feel will be putting law enforcement at the biggest risk in dealing with these people in the future.”

Rep. Dave Pinto (D–64B) replied, “We’ve had ex parte orders for protection, harassment, restraining orders. This is not a new concept in our laws. So this is simply following a parallel process with that.”

Rep. Walter Hudson (R–30A) said he disagreed, because ex parte (one-sided petition) in terms of the second amendment is different than protection from active harassment. “It’s literally second on the list of things that our founders were thinking about …  So if we’re going to take that right away from someone, they should at least have the right to hear their accuser and make their case.”

Rep. Frazier pointed out that there is good history about why the second amendment does actually exist.

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (D–40B) shared a story about gun shots in her neighborhood. “We had someone who had been struggling with mental illness, who at the time did not meet the standard to be civilly committed. There had been at least 15 calls to law enforcement about this person and it was known that this person was at high-risk to do something unsafe. He got a rifle from his parent’s house and fired over 200 rounds into my neighborhood, into multiple neighbor’s homes, garages, vehicles. One of those bullets was lodged in the neck of a police officer who was one of the first to respond.”  

Rep. Hudson said the timing of this legislation is “fascinating” given discussions on Restore the Vote the night before and the argument that voting is a sacred right. “I cannot appreciate the irony enough, after spending hours on the House Floor last night, arguing that we need to restore civil rights to people who have violated the rights of others, that we are arguing to take rights away from people within less than 24 hours.”

Rep. John Huot (D–56B) said he wanted to point out that 72-hour holds, which come up as a solution, “are easier said than done.” He said holds and red flag laws are “apples and bananas.”

The bill was referred to the Judiciary Finance and Civil Law committee, 9-6.

Learn more about national red flag laws here.

Related Story

April 20, 2023 – A coalition of gun violence prevention and domestic violence prevention groups filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) petition for certiorari in USA v. Rahimi. 

Kris Brown, President of Brady, said: “We know that firearms are the most common weapons used in domestic violence homicides, with female intimate partners more likely to be murdered with a gun than by all other means combined. Prohibiting domestic violence abusers from accessing firearms is common-sense, life-saving, and constitutional, and Brady is proud to stand in solidarity with other gun violence prevention and domestic violence organizations in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case and correct the terribly misguided ruling by the court of appeals.”

Other Gender-Based Violence-Related Policy: Sex Assault Medical Exams

Rep. Heather Edelson

HF 1279 was discussed by the Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee on February 28, to establish new state rules for paying medical examination costs for sexual assault cases. Chief author Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL–District 50A) introduced the bill, with the partnership of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, Office of Justice Programs, Minnesota Hospital Association, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, Minnesota Department of Health, and the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She indicated that 34 states have a state-funded approach.

The intention of the bill, Edelson said, is to create a state fund to pay the health care system for the medical forensic exams they provide to sexual assault victims. Currently these exams are paid for by the county where the assault took place, but that has proven inconsistent. “The state fund approach will help ensure that victim-survivors are not billed in error or surprised by a bill refused by a county payer,” said Edelson. “The bill also ensures that evidence is collected at these exams and is tested in a timely manner.”

Sheriff Brian Cruze, Meeker County, testified on behalf of the bill. The cost of these medical exams ranges from $400 to $11,000 (that is not a typo). “We’re committed to victim-survivors receiving those exams at no cost, but the reality is we don’t have the budgets that can sustain these costs and the huge increases that we’re seeing as of late.”

Em Westerlund, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, testified: “With 87 different county payers all located in different departments, many issues arise. Shifts in staffing, budgetary constraints, and confusion about obligations are all challenges that can result in inconsistent or disparate payments.”