'Huge problem:' Minnesota lawmaker aims to close loophole in Buffalo mass shooting

One year after the mass shooting at a Minnesota health clinic that killed one person and injured four others, a state lawmaker has filed legislation to close a gap in state law that allowed the alleged shooter to legally own a gun.

The accused shooter, Gregory Ulrich, is scheduled to stand trial in May for first-degree murder, attempted murder and other charges after the incident at the Allina Health Buffalo clinic on Feb. 9, 2021. A medical assistant, Lindsay Overbay, died. Prosecutors also accuse Ulrich of detonating pipe bombs inside the clinic.

The legislation from state Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, would stop prosecutors from dismissing misdemeanor order for protection cases until a judge makes a mental competency ruling, a process that played out with a tragic end in Buffalo.

"In the vast majority of cases, that’s probably not a problem. But in this case, it was a huge problem," O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, said in an interview. 

Warning signs about Ulrich flashed for years before the shooting. Police and a former roommate have said he was angry over medical treatment and threatened to shoot up and bomb a hospital. He violated a restraining order filed by a doctor at the Allina clinic and was deemed mentally incompetent in that case.

That would have prevented him from legally owning a gun in Minnesota -- if the determination had been made by a judge.

Instead, it was a Buffalo city prosecutor who dismissed the case after a competency examination, which has never been made public. 
State law requires a "judicial determination" of mental illness before barring a person from owning a gun. Without that judicial determination, the finding against Ulrich never got put into the background check system.

"I think that’s where the frustration is, there was this gap, this disconnect. And this bill addresses that gap," O'Neill said.

The prosecutor, Scott Baumgartner, did not respond to an emailed request for comment Friday about O'Neill's bill. 

The gap in state law was heavily scrutinized in the days after the shooting. Wright County Sheriff Sean Deringer told people not to "push blame" on anyone but Ulrich.

Hours after the shooting, Ulrich's former roommate told FOX 9 he grew concerned when Ulrich bought a gun and said he was not surprised "one bit" to hear Ulrich had been arrested.

O'Neill said it has taken a year to craft the legislation. Initial responses from gun rights groups have been positive, she said.

"I’m sure it won’t satisfy either side completely because it never happens, but this addresses the issue that specifically happened in Buffalo," O'Neill said.