State lawmakers propose gun access restrictions

ST. PAUL - Criminals would have a harder time getting guns and law enforcement would have more control over weapons permits in legislative efforts aimed at curbing Minnesota gun violence.

Gun debate
Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance President Joseph Olson, also a law professor at Hamline University, discusses gun legislation before a Senate committee Friday at the state Capitol. Danielle Killey | Forum News Service

ST. PAUL - Criminals would have a harder time getting guns and law enforcement would have more control over weapons permits in legislative efforts aimed at curbing Minnesota gun violence.

A bill by state Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, would make it easier for law enforcement to deny firearms permits based on the likelihood of the applicant being a danger to themselves or the public. Those denied could appeal the decision to a court.

It was a proposal that ruffled gun rights advocates.

"I don't think these changes are needed," Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen said during a Friday Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on gun-related bills.

While she said she understands law enforcement officials would want a little more power when reviewing applications, "I also understand why that's a mistake."


"You would allow them basically to deny someone's rights without due process," she added. "I don't think we want our chiefs and sheriffs to have that kind of discretion."

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said regulating access to guns will not necessarily cut down on violence.

"The individual is the one that makes the decision to exact some evil intent on another and the inanimate object is nothing more than a tool," he said.

A proposal from Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, would make it harder for those convicted of violent felonies to have their gun rights restored. The bill would require proof that the person is not likely to be dangerous and a 10-year waiting period after the end of a sentence before the request can be brought forward.

Another bill from Cohen would increase mental health screening needed before obtaining firearms permits. Some worry strict mental health regulations on weapons access could prevent some people from seeking treatment.

Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, presented a bill that would create a system where people who might be struggling with mental illness or other issues can surrender their firearms and be on a list to be prohibited from buying guns for a pre-set period of time.

"During that phase in a mental health situation a person still has insight and still is able to see an increasing degree of agitation ... or impulse control," Sheran said. "These are crisis times."

Anna McLafferty of National Alliance on Mental Illness said this could be a good option for family members and therapists to suggest to those struggling with mental health issues.


"We think there are many people who would voluntarily put their names on this list," she said. "It's just a clear answer to the problem."

Concerns were raised about police or sheriff departments storing and caring for surrendered weapons, which Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said is being discussed.

Talk about a bill that would require background checks on all gun sales, including private ones, seeped into Friday's meeting. Opponents worry the records kept from background checks would indirectly create a gun registration.The president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, Joseph Olson, said registration is "disguised" in the background check proposal.

"You can't have a background check system that is not tied to a registration system," the Hamline University law professor argued.

Despite disagreements, Latz, from St. Louis Park, said he believes everyone who spoke shared a common aim.

"We all share a goal of reducing violence, particularly gun violence, in our communities," he said. He thanked the public and committee members for the hours of public testimony and discussion over three hearings.

No votes were taken on any bills.

Article written by Danielle Killey of Forum News Service.

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