Universal background checks, extreme-risk gun confiscation become Minnesota law

Second Amendment


ST. PAUL — Universal background checks for firearms sales and court-issued emergency orders to confiscate guns from high-risk individuals are now Minnesota law.

Joined by gun control advocates, lawmakers and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords at the state Capitol on Friday, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Gov. Tim Walz signed an $880 million, 500-page public safety bill with the new gun policies into law.

The governor said policymakers need to do more than offer “thoughts and prayers” after mass shootings and take action to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

“This is not about the Second Amendment. This is about the safety of our children in our communities,” he said “We need action, and in Minnesota, that action is going to happen today.”

Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, bottom left, sits with Minnesota first lady Gwen Walz, bottom right, at a gun control bill signing Friday, May 19, 2023.

Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

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Walz, a hunter and former Army National Guardsman who in the past has said he owns guns, once had an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. But he has since distanced himself from the gun rights group and fell out of its favor as he advocated for gun control policies.

Under the new law set to go into effect on Aug. 1, background checks which typically apply to sales by licensed firearm dealers would be required for private sales of firearms like pistols and semi-automatic rifles in Minnesota.

Transfers between immediate family members and those involving a firearms dealer or law enforcement would be exempted. Both parties involved in a sale would have to present a valid transfer permit or permit to carry and government ID for a transfer. Owners would have to present a record of transfer upon request of a law officer investigating a crime.

Law enforcement groups like the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association support the new laws. But gun rights proponents question the constitutionality of red-flag laws and whether police should be able to take a person’s guns away through a court order.

Opponents argue universal background checks would place undue burdens on the routine activities of law-abiding gun owners, such as loaning or trading firearms.

Republicans and gun rights supporters have suggested the best approach to address violent crime is to get at its root causes, and have said the state should instead focus on more aggressively enforcing its existing laws.

In a news release responding to the new laws, the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus said “red flag” and background checks won’t have any effect on violence and will set up “unreasonable barriers” to a constitutionally protected right.

“Regulating peaceful conduct that is common among gun owners will do nothing to impact violent crime,” said Rob Doar, a lobbyist with the group. “Once again, it is law-abiding gun owners in the government’s sights, not resources and strategies to address the mental health crisis or criminal misuse of guns.”

Gun Owners Caucus Chairman Brian Strawser said the two new laws are likely only the beginning in Minnesota, noting that Giffords recently told TIME Magazine in an interview: “No More Guns, Gone.”

Giffords, who served in Congress with Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, became a leading gun control advocate after being shot in the head in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that claimed the lives of six and injured 12 others. She joined Walz and Ellison at a news conference pushing for the new gun laws earlier this spring.

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Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, discusses a judiciary and public safety budget bill on the floor on the floor of the Minnesota Senate Friday, April 14, 2023.

Contributed / Minnesota Senate Media Services

“Red flag” and universal background checks are just two pieces of gun legislation Democrats introduced this session. Other proposals, including magazine capacity limits and raising the age to buy semi-automatic firearms, did not move forward. Senate public safety chair Ron. Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, and other DFLers said gun control language that made it this far has the most public support.

“We’re all working toward not having to look at the Capitol, or Perkins, or other institutions where the flag is flying at half mast because of a mass shooting,” said Latz, who has long advocated for gun control laws in the Legislature. “Some days I think it’s always at half-mast, I’d like to see a break.”

Prospects improved for new gun control laws after DFLers won complete control of state government last November. But earlier this session, it was unclear whether gun control bills would pass the Senate, where the DFL holds a slim 34-33 majority.

Two DFL senators from northern rural districts — Sens. Rob Kupec of Moorhead and Grant Hauschild of Hermantown — had not committed to a strong stance one way or the other on gun control. Both ended up voting in favor of the final version of the package earlier this month.

In the House, one DFL lawmaker split with his party on guns. Iron Range DFLer Rep. Dave Lislegard joined Republicans in voting against the public safety bill.

Besides the gun control measures and $3.5 billion in public safety funding for the next two years, the package also includes new policies aimed at reforming criminal sentencing. One provides a path for reduced sentences for prisoners who commit to reform programs.

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