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Minnesota Democrats set to restart gun control talks after winning full control of legislature

Minnesota Democrats hoping to enact tougher gun laws no longer have a Republican majority in their way to the state Capitol.

Now in control of the governor’s office and the legislature, Democrats plan to resume talks on expanding criminal background checks to cover most private gun transfers, and on “flag” protection orders. red” that would allow authorities to temporarily remove weapons from people deemed dangerous.

Their gun control push will follow another year with several mass shootings – at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado, a Walmart in Virginia, a supermarket in New York, an elementary school in Texas and a 4th of July parade in the Illinois.

“The United States is an exception when it comes to this issue. We are losing far more of our residents to guns at a much higher rate than other countries,” said state Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, who sponsored the background check bill last year. “I feel a renewed urgency and hear from community members and colleagues who feel the same.”

Republican lawmakers and gun rights activists are gearing up to play defense on the issue.

“The overwhelming majority of firearms used in the commission of a crime are already obtained illegally,” said state Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia. “The universal background checks they advocate are only for people who are already law-abiding citizens.”

House Democrats in Minnesota passed background checks and red flag measures in 2020, but Republicans who led the Senate at the time blocked the bills from going further.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said gun bills would be a “high priority” for her caucus during the next legislative session, which begins in January. Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, did not say whether her caucus had enough votes to pass them, but said Senate Democrats would consider them.

Democrats’ gun control ambitions will be tested by narrow majorities in both the House and Senate; they hold the Senate by a single seat. Some DFL lawmakers in greater Minnesota have always been wary of the proposals.

“Having a DFL majority doesn’t guarantee anything,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who will chair the Senate Public Safety Committee. “The hardest part has always been overcoming in-party battles that threaten the ability of individual lawmakers to stay in power.”

The latest background check bill introduced in the House would apply to transfers of firearms between private parties, requiring those who purchase to submit to a background check conducted by their local law enforcement agency. law. But the legislation provided exceptions for transfers between immediate family members – spouses or partners, parents and children, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren. It also exempted temporary transfers at shooting ranges, firearms competitions, and while hunting or trapping.

The red flag proposal would create a process where law enforcement, family or household members could ask a court to temporarily bar someone from owning a firearm if the person exhibits a ” significant danger” to the individual or others. Applicants should submit a sworn affidavit detailing specific concerns and supporting evidence.

“The [petitioner] can be charged with perjury if he’s lying,” Pinto said. “There have to be specific facts and circumstances and evidence of all kinds, and then the court has to find that the person poses a significant danger.”

Rob Doar, senior vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, is concerned about both bills. He said expanded background checks could “create huge burdens for law-abiding gun owners.”

Regarding red flag protection orders, Doar said the Gun Owners Caucus would oppose any version of the proposal that does not afford adequate due process to the accused.

“If there was at least an adversarial process where the accused person has an opportunity to defend themselves before their property is seized, that’s at least something we could understand,” he said.

Doar and Nash said they hope Democrats consider other gun violence prevention proposals, such as tougher penalties for those who commit crimes involving guns and for straw buyers who buy guns. weapons on behalf of people who cannot legally purchase the weapons themselves.

“I certainly know we’re open to discussing how to reduce gun crime if it’s a comprehensive approach to reducing crime by getting criminals off the streets who use them,” Nash said.

In a recent interview, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said he supports both the proposed red flag law and the crackdown on straw buyers.

“If we can stop one of these [shootings] with some of these things, it’s not a huge inconvenience for legal gun owners to own the guns they need,” Walz said.

The governor said he expects hearings on the red flag proposal. According to the Giffords Law Center, nineteen states have red flag laws.

Lawmakers can expect the gun safety advocates who have filled the Capitol in recent years to show up in force in the upcoming session.

Molly Leutz, state leader of the Minnesota chapter of Moms Demand Action, said her group will be there from start to finish of the legislative session to urge lawmakers to pass background checks and flag bills. red.

Preventing gun violence is more urgent than ever, Leutz said. Some of her chapter’s volunteers have children who attend the University of Virginia, she said, where three students were killed and two injured in a November campus shooting.

“We are always one step away…from gun violence affecting us in real time,” Leutz said. “It really could happen to anyone.”

Writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.

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