Part 2: House Debates About Gun Legislation and Restorative Justice

In April, Rep. Kelly Moller (D–Shoreview) opened up discussion on HF2890 as the House omnibus public safety finance and policy bill with committee debates. Here are some of the voices — with a focus on those who spoke in opposition to many parts of the legislation.

UPDATE: Late on May 12, the Senate passed its version of the bill along party lines, 34-33, and it will go back to the House for a vote on the revised legislation.

Background Checks

An amendment was proposed to remove language from the bill requiring a universal background check. Rep. Jim Nash (R–Waconia) said the background check is not needed because a 2019 study by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics found that only eight percent of guns used in the commission of a crime were obtained legally. The black market for guns would not be stopped and a background check only limits law-abiding citizens from owning a gun.

“Wouldn’t it be more intriguing if we prosecuted those who were using guns in the commission of a crime and putting them away,?” he asked. “I think you would see a precipitous drop in gun crimes. [Criminals] “who use a gun in the commission of a crime” shouldn’t “receive a juice box, a blanket, and a hug and walk out the revolving door of the justice system.”

Rep. Dave Pinto (D–Saint Paul) noted in response that we already do background checks to prohibit gun sales to people who have committed dangerous crimes and are violent felons. “The Minnesota Sheriff’s Association is calling for the passage of criminal background checks. The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association is calling for criminal background checks. Our state county attorneys are calling for criminal background checks. And our Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, our front line police officers, are calling for the criminal background checks in this bill.”

He continued: “Criminal background checks we have recognized as needed and work. Why would we say that we do not want it to cover all gun sales, with the exceptions that are laid out in this bill? The point has been made that ‘criminals will ignore the law anyway.’ As a prosecutor, I really don’t understand that argument because that would say we shouldn’t have any criminal laws. Criminal laws set an expectation. I would hope responsible gun owners would not hand their weapon over to somebody if they did not know that person’s criminal record. This holds all gun owners to that standard.”

Rep. Grossell (R–Clearbrook) responded, “I don’t need the government to tell me who I can loan a weapon to. I don’t need to burden my sheriff’s office or chief’s office to get a background check to loan a weapon to a friend. I know the people that I deal with and they’re good citizens. If there are issues that you want to solve in certain counties, certain areas, then do it. Solve it. But leave the rest of us alone.”

Rep. Isaac Schultz (R–Elmdale) says his constituents “believe in the 2nd amendment), believe in law-abiding gun owners having the right and the opportunity to own and possess firearms … to defend and protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners in this state.”

He was in favor of the amendment because the “provision included currently in this omnibus bill, it fits with the Democrat’s agenda. Go after the law-abiding people of this state, go after the people who aren’t committing crimes in this state, restrict their rights, gather their data, and at the same time make it easier for the criminals of this state to continue to commit crimes.”

The amendment was not adopted, 61-70.

Stand Your Ground Amendment

Rep. Lisa Demuth (R–Cold Spring) offered an A13 amendment, also know as the “Defense of Dwelling and Person Act” or “Stand Your Ground.” She said it would enable people to defend themselves in their dwelling from an attack by an intruder. She said 28 states allow “no duty to retreat from an attacker in any place in which a person is lawfully present.”

Rep. Moller said it is also referred to as the Shoot First amendment. “People in Minnesota already have the right to self-defense, but this amendment allows for an encouraging of escalation of violence when that violence is avoidable.” She said istates with this law have seen an increase in homicides, with racial disparities.

“I cannot believe that we’re offering this amendment within a week of hearing about situations in other states,” she added, “whether someone drives up the wrong driveway and gets shot. Someone accidentally tries to enter a car by mistake and they get shot. Someone rings the doorbell of a house by mistake and they get shot. A child loses a ball in another yard and they get shot. This is a very extreme amendment.”

The amendment was not adopted: 62 yeas, 69 nays

Trying Youth as Adults

Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R–North Branch) proposed an A29 amendment to require juveniles who commit “heinous crimes” to be tried as an adult.

That amendment, and others, became the subject of length points of order discussions about whether the amendment is germane to the bill, since they didn’t relate specifically to provisions made in the bill.

Rep. Pat Garofalo (R–Farmington) referenced the omnibus bill as a Moriarty-Moller Crime Bill — referring to the new Hennepin County attorney general who has reform-minded approaches to juvenile justice — and was repeatedly reminded that it is not appropriate to refer to legislation or speak to motives of elected officials. He indicated that the more the DFL says he cannot call the bill the Moriarty-Moller Crime Bill, the more people will want to, and that Moller has not been copyrighted by the DFL yet.

Garofalo continued: “Hennepin and Ramsey County represent 30 percent of our state’s population, yet they represent 76 percent of the homicides that are taking place in our state. In light of the fact that Hennepin County and Ramsey County are DFL-dominated, why on earth should we be listening to DFL elected officials, and policies that originated in Hennepin and Ramsey County, in terms of imposing that on the rest of the state?”

Moller indicated the bill was put together with input from people throughout the whole state.

Grossell added that the bill is anti-law enforcement. “Instead, lets fund nonprofits, untested, untried, instead of putting the money where you should be, into your law enforcement communities, so they can do the job that we have asked them to do — to stop evil, to do good, to protect our communities.”

Rep. Patricia Mueller (R–Austin) said she has “a passion for juvenile justice” and “a passion for making sure that our communities are able to find innovative ways to come together and work with the people who need help the most. We cannot legislate ourselves out of some of these issues.”

General Provisions in the Bill

Rep. Natalie Zeleznikar (R–Fredenberg) said: “After listening to hours of debate, it becomes obvious that the positions, issues of intent, of what we want to accomplish is the same, but how we get there is different. Guns are one part of public safety in Minnesota, and so is the van that mows them down at the parade.” She said, with sarcasm, that the rights of law-abiding citizens are being taken away yet criminals are let out of jail “because they have rights.”

Rep. Mark Wiens (R–Lake Elmo) says he’s encouraged by veteran’s courts and treatment courts for nonviolent offenders “that we can give them a second chance to get things right.” he said there are three things he takes a look at when he considers how he’s going to vote on a bill: “Does it do what it says it’s going to do?,” “Does it make us better as a people?” “Are we together?”

He said, “I want to win with everyone here, but I am very concerned that we’re going to push voices out by some of the policies and that if those voices are not heard they’re going to go underground. It’s not good when voices go underground and are not heard. It causes distrust and disharmony.”

Neu Brindley added concern about the bias incident database. She shared a story about her Jewish father-in-law, born in Paris in 1939. “We do not want to empower a government that can become oppressive,” she said. “Once this cow is out of the barn, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Rep. Frank Hornstein (D–Minneapolis) responded that, as the son of Holocaust survivors, “There’s nothing in the bill that remotely resembles the Holocaust, and I think we have to be very careful about making these kinds of analogies and comparisons. I think it desecrates the memory of my family and many who died in the Holocaust. While we can disagree on different aspects of this bill, to make this kind of historical analogy is disturbing and hurtful.”

Restorative Justice

Hudson added that restorative justice has “a nut in the center that has tremendous value that needs to be explored and embraced and flushed out. I think the majority’s ahead of the curve on that, and I’m eager to catch up.”

He said he was able to sit down with one of the community groups serving North Minneapolis, a group of “mothers and grandmothers who work as co-responders.” He was on a ride-along that include a situation where a co-responder de-escalated the incident. “I got to see them do their work and that was extraordinary,” he said.

Hudson also toured Anoka County jail. He has heard a variety of perspectives about how to come at public safety from different perspectives, but he hears three themes in what people seem to want to see:

  • Offenders need to be held accountable
  • Rehabilitation is a “secondary objective to ensuring that justice has been served.
  • More support is needed for mental health with a “spectrum of supports and interventions that we can make with the goal of getting as many people to be productive and self-reliant as possible, but recognizing that we’re not going to save everyone, and those who can’t be saved need to be safely housed”

He said, “We need to have the goal of teaching people how to be productive and proud of their achievements, proud of their accomplishments, and point towards a merit-based way of looking at life, because that keeps you from crime.”

The House omnibus bill passed 69-60. A similar version passed in the Senate. The two versions are being discussed in committee.

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