Senate Democrats propose tougher gun restrictions, draw ire of gun owners

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Supporters of tougher gun restrictions have put Minnesota lawmakers on notice: they’ll be watching to ensure legislation passes this year.

Now, as Senate Democrats propose two changes to tighten the state’s gun laws, gun owners have made it known they’re paying attention, too.

Democrats on Thursday introduced bills to mandate background checks before every gun purchase and expand the use of emergency protective orders that allow police to remove guns from a person’s home. Lawmakers unveiled their plans on the same day that the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus was in the Capitol to lobby lawmakers against making changes.

“There’s a lot of people who have some issues with these bills,” said state Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park. “My bottom line would be, if you’re a law abiding gun owner, and you don’t have a prohibitive criminal history, you really have nothing to worry about with these bills.”

The background check bill requires a person to go to a law enforcement agency and submit information for a criminal background check. The person would get a permit valid for one year with no cap on the number of firearms he or she can purchase.

The background check requirement would apply to all firearms purchases. The bill does not change the current 18-year-old age limit for gun purchases.

The protective order legislation, often called a “red flag” bill, allows family members or police to petition a court for an emergency order allowing officers to remove guns from a person’s home. If a judge signs the order, police could take the guns before a court hearing, which would have to be scheduled within two weeks, Latz said.

The emergency order is designed to prevent a person who has threatened suicide or harm to others from acting.

But gun owners said they had major concerns that it could be carried out before a court hearing.

“You have no opportunity to provide your defense, you have no opportunity to provide your side of the story,” said Rob Doar, political director of the Gun Owners Caucus. “Yet you have law enforcement knocking on your door to take your firearms away. That is absolutely not due process.”

Senate Republicans pose the greatest obstacle to both pieces of legislation – Latz predicted that Democrats could get enough GOP support to pass the bills, while Doar said that wouldn’t happen.

Noticeably absent from the Democrats’ news conference was the head of their caucus, Minority Leader Tom Bakk. 

Bakk, DFL-Cook, last week raised concerns that a background check would be required before selling a gun to his neighbor.

“Where you lose me is when you tell me, I can’t sell my shotgun to my neighbor,” he said.

Bakk also noted that Democrats were unable to pass tougher gun restrictions when they last controlled the Senate, meaning it’s unlikely that they could push through legislation now that they’re in the minority.

Latz said Thursday that he didn’t share Bakk’s concerns.

“We don’t always know our neighbors and friends as well as we think we do,” he said. “We might not be aware they were convicted of a violent felony 10 or 15 years ago, before they became our neighbor, for example.”

The Senate Democrats’ bills are similar to those proposed last week by House DFLers, who control their chamber. Gov. Tim Walz has endorsed both the mandatory background checks and expanded protective orders.