Minnesota prosecutor blasts "horribly written" and "unconstitutional" gun storage proposal

(AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press, John Rawlston)

In theory, HF 396 should be one of the easiest anti-gun bills for the new Democratic majorities in the Minnesota legislature to enshrine into law. The gun storage mandate doesn’t ban the sale or possession of commonly-owned firearms or ammunition magazines or prohibit any existing gun owners from maintaining possession of the firearms already in their possession.


The bill also has the backing of the Minnesota Peace and Police Officers Associtation, but many sheriffs across the state have publicly criticized the legislation. In fact, 77 of the 87 county sheriffs in the state are formally opposed to the bill, and now we’re starting to see some local prosecutors expressing concern of their own. In fact, the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus recently shared a letter from Anoka County Attorney Brad Johnson to lawmakers that exposes the fundamental flaws in the gun control bill.

You can read the entire letter for yourself here, and I’d encourage you to do so. As Johnson writes, the flaws with HB 396 are so numerous that he couldn’t even list them all, but he identified multiple issues with the legislation as written, starting with the fact that the bill may actually make it more difficult to prosecute individuals for negligently storing their firearms. HF 396 would repeal the current language on negligent storage and replace it with fuzzier wording requiring guns to be kept locked and unloaded unless they’re being carried or “under the control” of their owner.


Under certain negligence standards, when there is a duty to care, one could assert that even a firearm not carried is under that person’s control. Indeed, the bill itself contemplates that there is a difference between “carried” and “under the control”. If so, under Subd 1 the entire law would not apply in all the circumstances when a court finds the firearm was under the owner’s control. And because the bill would also do away with the negligent-storage statute, ends up left with fewer tools to redress what could have previously been a crime.

Johnson’s biggest concern, however, is about the effect of the storage mandate on law-abiding citizens.

Finally, and most importantly, how does this law apply in situations where there may be good public safety reasons for people to store a loaded firearm at the ready? Such people may include domestic violence and stalking victims, people who have had to obtain harassment restraining orders, law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, permit-to-carry holders, etc. As written, the bill makes it criminal to keep a loaded firearm in a gun safe or vault, even if protected behind a lock with a code, key, or biometric interface. And this is the situation where the constitutional concerns are both apparent and paramount.


The prosecutor shamed sponsors for their proposal, arguing that the storage mandate will “make felons out of tens of thousands of Minnesota parents who have given their teenaged children a shotgun or rifle as a present, and then allowed them to keep that firearm unloaded and cased in their bedroom closet someplace near a box of ammunition without some sort of lock.”

If that seems like an oddly specific example, you’re right. Johnson was talking about his own experience growing up. His dad, also a prosecutor, gave Johnson a 20-gauge shotgun on his 15th birthday after he’d completed a firearms safety course; something that Johnson worries would be unacceptable or possibly even illegal under HF 396.

Instead of an unconstitutional storage mandate that would dramatically infringe on the right to self-defense in the home, Johnson encouraged Minnesota legislators to “fund age-appropriate firearm safety education, as well as “common-sense and practical ideas” on how to prevent prohibited persons from illegally acquiring a gun and improving existing laws.

Are the objections from authorities like Johnson having an impact? It’s far to early to celebrate its defeat, but HF 396 has been parked in the House Ways and Means Committee since mid-February, and its Senate companion has been gathering dust in the Judiciary Committee for even longer. That would not be the case if sponsors were convinced they had the votes necessary to secure passage, and it’s a very good sign for gun owners, Second Amendment supporters, and those Minnesotans who don’t believe that making it more difficult to act in self-defense is the right way (or even a good way) to prevent accidental shootings, gun-involved suicides, and violent crimes.


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