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UPDATED 3-12: Testimony and Debate About Gun Deaths of Children

Maria Isa at a 2022 event (photo by Sarah Whiting)

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UPDATED March 12: The House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee heard a bill co-authored by Representative Maria Isa Perez-Vega (DFL-65B), representative of District 66B, to enable local governmental units around the state to restrict or prohibit the possession of dangerous weapons on public lands and in public buildings. “We have communities around our state that are still grieving and traumatized by preventable loss of their loved one,” said Perez-Vega at a committee hearing today.

Bill author, Rep. Samakab Hussein (D-65A), said, “By empowering local governments, communities can craft targeted solutions that keep their residents safe while respecting Second Amendment rights. While extremist Republicans are worried about banning books in libraries, we are banning guns. And at public recreation centers, our youth deserve the dignified right to engage in sports with their peers and friends, not be harassed and harmed by gun violence.”

 

February 29 Testimony About Gun Safety and Children

At the Minnesota legislature, a joint House Public Safety Finance and Policy committee and Children and Families Finance and Policy committee hearing was held February 29 to discuss gun violence and its impact on children.

The hearing opened with the acknowledgement that firearms are now the leading cause of death for U.S.  children, spiking considerably over the past ten years.

Dr. Rebecca Mannix, associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School and emergency medicine physician at Boston Children’s Hospital, presented with her teenage daughter Cordelia Mannix. Together the two have done research analyzing ten years of data about firearm fatalities involving children, prompted by dinner table conversations between the two. 

They offered data indicating that firearms are causing the most fatalities among children from infants to age 18.

  • Nonfatal injuries in general have decreased over the last decade by 54 percent.
  • Fatal injuries of children have increased by 23 percent.
  • Of the fatal injuries, firearms caused an increase of 87 percent in children’s deaths over the past ten years; drug poisoning fatalities increased by 133 percent.

Unintentional deaths by firearms among children increased by 83 percent.

Suicide deaths among youth increased by 70 percent.

Death by gun violence increased by 85 percent.

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (D-40B)

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (D-40B)

According to an American Association of Pediatrics journal article in 2023, U.S. pediatric firearm deaths from homicide, suicide, and accident since 2018 have increased by more than 40 percent.

Testimony for House file 4300, a bill authored by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (D-40B), was outlined. She indicated that the bill was transformed after public feedback in 2023. The intention was to amend the legislation in a different committee, after the 15 minutes of testimony that followed from both DFL and GOP testifiers.

The bill requires that guns be stored safely, unloaded with a locking mechanism, or in a firearm storage unit. Becker-Finn said in her introduction, “No single piece of legislation is going to prevent every single gun death, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do more to prevent harm from occurring. … The idea is that we want to make sure that guns are being stored safely when you’re not using them. … Most gun owners know how important it is to store our guns safely. This is a reasonable bill that will prevent death and harm to our communities.” 

Exceptions are for law enforcement, shooting sports, and legal transportation of firearms. It does not include requirements for storage of ammunition.



Testimony in Support

Kristin Song, president of the Ethan Miller Song Foundation, shared the story of her son who was shot in the head “with an unsecured gun at his best friend’s house. The father stored his three handguns and the ammunition in a shoebox. His friend has been showing off his father’s unsecured guns for over six months.”

Jed Schlegmilch talked about his brother John, who died of suicide in 1992 at a party held at the home of a family of hunters. “There were shotguns out in the open, shotgun shells out in the open. John left to go downstairs where nobody was around. He grabbed one of the shotguns sitting out, he turned it on himself, and he pulled the trigger. John was 17, just a kid.”

Hilary Brasel shared the story of her husband Michael, who was murdered in their front yard at 7:30am on May 6, 2023. “Michael noticed a young man breaking into our family car and went out to stop them. Michael was shot three times at close-range in his chest and back by a 17-year old man. … As a pediatric nurse, I was the first responder for Michael and tried to perform life-saving measures, while my older son called 911 and my younger son watched the horror play out. … The ripples of his death have torn apart the lives of our family, our close friends, neighbors, and countless community members, as Michael was a dedicated carpenter, artist, and hockey coach. 

“There were four young men in the car, all with previous history with guns and violent crimes, both as juveniles and adults. They all had criminal history and were on probation at the time of the crime. Specifically, the shooter had just been released from probation in April 2023. … They planned ahead to bring a gun with them while they went car shopping, looking for things to steal.

“The gun they used to murder Michael was stolen from a family member of one of the young men as it was not properly stored by the gun owner. … It literally was 57 seconds that it took for the criminals to drive up to our home, break into my car, interact with my husband, shoot him three times, and speed away.

“A locked-up gun could have prevented the murder of my husband.” 

Minnesota Data

Stefan Gingerich, epidemiologist & suicide researcher for the Minnesota Department of Health, reported that in 2021 — the most recent year with complete data — there were 573 firearm deaths in Minnesota. From 2018 to 2021, 73 percent of firearm deaths were suicide, 23.6 percent were homicide, and the remaining were “split between law enforcement intervention, undetermined manner of death, and unintentional deaths.”

Firearm suicide deaths are higher in rural areas. In 2021, men made up 90.8 percent of the firearm suicide deaths and 83.4 percent of homicide deaths. 

Maria Sarabia, assistant commissioner of the Health Improvement Bureau for the Minnesota Department of Health, added: Firearm suicide attempts are lethal 90 percent of the time and multiple studies, over many decades and life experiences, indicate the decision to attempt suicides are made in under ten minutes. MDH firmly believes that strategies that limit easy access to firearms in those fewer-than-10-minute consideration times will substantially impact the number of fatal suicide incidents.” 



Testimony in Opposition

Robert Doar, vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, objected to the strict liability the legislation “imposes on a firearm, regardless of whether or not a child or prohibited person is likely to have access to it. Just the mere act of storing an unloaded firearm inappropriately can land someone with up to 30 days in jail with a misdemeanor charge. If a firearm is loaded and stored improperly, regardless of whether a child or prohibited [adult] is within miles of it, a person can end up in jail for one year.”

He suggested that different types of gun owners require different approaches regarding liability, and questioned whether someone who lends their handgun out is liable. “Where the focus needs to be is what risk are the people posing. Are there children in the home who shouldn’t have access, or prohibited people in the home? Right now we’re saying just merely if you leave a door open on your gun safe inadvertently, even though there’s no kids in the home, that’s potentially a criminal charge.”

Brian Gosch, lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, said, “House File 4300 is a well-intentioned bill, but it misses the mark. It only picks on guns, it doesn’t seek to require secure knives, hammers, vehicles, or other items that can be used to hurt people. … These laws target benign conduct and are about stigmatizing and encumbering law-abiding gun owners and placing restrictions on how responsible parents can introduce their children to firearms and the shooting sports. As with all gun control, the over-reaching goal is to discourage gun ownership and eventually eliminate it.”

Karl Kaufman, board member of the Willmar Pistol and Rifle Club, said, “Guns are part of my life. I’d like to oppose this gun storage bill today. The bill is redundant, because we already have [over 40 gun] laws.” He showed two trigger locks and indicated a criminal could cut and drill the lock to get it off. He also said that if an intruder enters his home, and his gun is in the combination safe in his bedroom, “How do I protect my family?”

Jim Anderson testified that self-defense with a gun needs to happen in a home, and that“Access is critical when you have a break-in. … You don’t have a right to restrict my ability or my right to defend myself in my own home. My heart goes out to the people who have lost loved ones, lost children to those atrocities, but I think it’s an educational problem for adults and children.”


Committee Discussion

The Public Safety Finance and Policy committee then discussed the bill.

Rep. Walter Hudson (R–30A), referenced the testimony of Hilary Brasel whose husband was killed at their home by youth criminals who had a gun stolen from a family member. “This bill, if it is signed into law, if enacted prior to that crime, would have done absolutely nothing, nothing at all, to prevent something from happening. What it might have done, after the fact, is provide an opportunity for a prosecutor to charge the family member whose gun was stolen — the victim of a theft — with a felony. But I suppose it would have depended on whether or not the prosecutor-in-question thought that prosecuting such an individual might have a negative impact on their disparities statistics. I guess we’ll never know. But one thing we do know is that if those criminals were off the street, that murder would not have occurred. That’s where our focus should be in this committee.”

Rep. John Huot (D–56B): “We actually put more money and more energy into storing automatic defibrillators in churches and places like that. We want to protect everybody. Maybe everybody should have an automatic defibrillator too. I really think this is a good start and I appreciate it.” 

Rep. Matt Grossell (R–2A) said, “It’s going to hinder law-abiding citizens. It’s not going to do a thing to stop suicide.”

Rep. Becker-Finn offered some concluding remarks: “Ideally what we’re doing with laws is trying to get people to change their behaviors. What we know is, some people are not storing their firearms. Under the current statute, a lot of things are not defined. Honestly the bulk of the bill is just defining things so we can be clear about what is reasonable … the current statute isn’t as strong as it could be.

“I’m glad to hear that folks are open to making this a better bill without just trying to kill the bill. I think this is really important.” 


____________________________________________________________________________

Reporting Lost and Stolen Firearms

Rep. Kaohly Vang Her (D–64A)

Rep. Kaohly Vang Her (D–64A)

House file 601 was discussed, which would require that lost and stolen firearms be reported promptly to law enforcement, authored by Rep. Kaohly Vang Her (D–64A).

Rep. Hudson offered an amendment to change wording to “clear and convincing evidence” for charging someone who did not report a lost or stolen firearm. “Consistent with the theme today, it very much feels as though we’re criminalizing victims with these bills. … Let’s make sure we can demonstrate that the person was in fact negligent in their failure to report their gun missing.”

Rep. Her replied in opposition to the amendment that, “The State already has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the owner knew or should have known.” 

The amendment did not pass.

Rep. Paul Novotny (R—30B) questioned the legality of the bill.

Rep. Her indicated, “This law has passed in many states and it has not been challenged in those particular states.” She said that when the bill was previously considered in 2023, law enforcement sent letters of support.

Novotny replied, “We’re not objecting to the base of the bill. We’re objecting to the fine print, which is, once again, you’re [being] subjective.” 

Rep. Her concluded, the bill’s language is “plain-language, spelled out very clearly.” The first violation is a petty misdemeanor, “which does not constitute a crime, and so we do give people quite a bit of leeway. Also, there is an indemnity. If you report it, you’re not held responsible. The goal of this bill is to incentivize people, not to punish them.” 

The bill was re-referred to House Ways & Means committee.

 

 

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