The shooting at a health clinic in Buffalo, Minnesota a few weeks ago prompted anti-gun lawmakers in the state to demand new gun control laws, including a “red flag” firearms seizure measure. Now the state’s association of police chiefs is joining in, proclaiming that law enforcement should have the power to deny a gun license to those that they believe have a “substantial likelihood that the applicant is a danger to self or the public.”
Jeff Potts, Executive Director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, says departments’ hands are too often tied by the law that gives them little to no discretion when processing such permits.
Police must run a criminal background check and check a state database to see if an applicant has ever been civilly committed to treatment for mental illness.
“If they are not, the department shall issue the permit to purchase within seven days,” Potts said.
A possible solution, Potts says, is to make the process look more like the one that sheriffs are allowed to use when considering a “permit to carry.”
Instead of seven days, sheriffs have 30 days to process applications and they can deny a permit if there is a “substantial likelihood that the applicant is a danger to self or the public.”
“That language would be helpful in the ‘permit to purchase’ because we know there are situations that have not yet met the judicial commitment level that create a significant risk,” Potts said.
First off, the state of Minnesota shouldn’t have a permit-to-purchase system to begin with. It amounts to a potential seven-day waiting period before you can exercise a constitutionally-protected right, and Potts wants to extend that to 30 days.
In the case of shooter in Buffalo, Minnesota, it wasn’t the state’s gun laws that failed. It was the local prosecutor. The suspect was not only well-known to local police, but he’d actually been brought up on charges in 2018 for violating a protective order that the health clinic had taken out. The local prosecutor determined that the suspect was mentally incompetent, however, and dropped the charges.
If the prosecutor had simply pursued the case and let a judge make that determination, then the suspect would have been barred under state and federal law from owning a firearm. It may not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but the failure to prosecute ultimately had severe consequences.
Instead of putting more power in the hands of police to determine who gets to exercise their Second Amendment rights, lawmakers in Minnesota should be focusing their efforts on making sure that law enforcement (including prosecutors) actually know how to enforce the current laws on the books. The law-abiding shouldn’t be punished for the failures of government, which is exactly what Potts is calling for here. The power that Potts wants to give to police would come at the expense of the rights of residents, and could easily be abused with little to no recourse for those denied their ability to even purchase a handgun just because police say so.