A legislative battle in Minnesota is heating up, with Democrats in control of the state pushing for a “red flag” firearm seizure bill as well as universal background checks. Republicans, who are in charge of the state Senate, countered that push on Monday by unveiling a series of proposals of their own to crack down on violent crime.
Unlike the measures pushed by Democrats, the bills introduced by Republicans don’t focus on legal gun owners in the state, but instead focus on actual violent offenders.
At a news conference ahead of the first hearings on their proposals, members of the Senate GOP majority said their bills can actually pass both chambers. They said that contrasts with two priorities of the House Democratic majority — universal background checks and a “red flag” law — which gun rights groups oppose and Senate Republicans have refused to hear.
“We have a reality that we have to deal with. We have a divided government,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Limmer said. ”… Any extreme gun bill is going to be very difficult to pass in the other chamber.”
Senate Democrats were quick to dismiss the GOP proposals as window-dressing that might win bipartisan support but won’t save many lives.
That’s an odd criticism for Democrats to make, since there’s no evidence whatsoever that universal background checks actually reduce crime, or even lead to more background checks. We’ve also pointed out here at Bearing Arms that the states that have had red flag laws on the books for the longest period of time have seen their suicide rates increase, even with the law in place.
Besides, the proposals offered up by Senate Republicans appear to actually address some real issues in the criminal justice system.
One GOP proposal would increase penalties from a gross misdemeanor to a felony for straw buyers who knowingly transfer firearms to criminals. Another would require courts to follow up to ensure that individuals subject to restraining orders comply with orders to surrender their firearms.
Another bill would clarify state law to define the crime of drive-by shootings to cover any shooting from a vehicle, after a 2013 Minnesota Supreme Court decision narrowed the definition to include only shootings outside a building.
And another would prohibit guns for sex offenders who’ve been civilly committed. According to the Department of Human Services, 64 people confined in the state’s secure program or living in the community under supervision don’t have adult felony convictions. So they could conceivably own guns under current law if they’re every fully discharged, though only nine offenders are out on full releases, compared with 731 confined to secure facilities and 22 in community placements.
The civil libertarian in me has some issues with that last proposal. If someone is not a prohibited person, should they really lose their right to keep and bear arms? I realize we’re only talking about 64 people in the entire state at the moment, but just because only a few people would be denied their rights doesn’t make it okay.
Sen. Ron Latz, of St. Louis Park, the lead Democrat on Limmer’s committee, dismissed the Republican proposals as “milquetoast” and “window dressing.” Latz said they’re part of an election-year strategy to deflect attention from the House-passed-backed proposals, which he asserted got traction among swing voters and helped Democrats take over the House in 2018.
Latz is looking at this issue purely from a political point of view, which is not surprising given that he’s a politician in an election year. If I were a Republican state senator, I’d push back hard against his assertion that the GOP proposals are mere “window dressing,” and I’d challenge Latz to show how universal background checks and red flag laws have actually worked to reduce crime or overall suicide rates in states where they’ve been put in place.
With legislative control divided between the two parties, it’s highly unlikely that either of the Democrats’ gun control proposals are going anywhere this session, but if they don’t become law this session, they will certainly be a campaign issue this fall, and Republicans will need to have a strong argument about why their ideas aren’t just more constitutional, but more effective in protecting lives and reducing violent crime in the state’s worst neighborhoods.