Minnesota Sheriff and Prosecutor Blast Storage Mandate, 'Lost or Stolen' Bill

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

While Minnesota lawmakers have introduced a slew of gun control bills this session, the two that are moving quickly at the moment are HF 4300 and HF 601, imposing new storage mandates for gun owners and requiring them to report the loss or theft of a firearm within 48 hours or face penalties themselves. 


At a hearing on HF 601 on Thursday, bill sponsor Kaohly Vang Her made a claim that seems utterly bizarre on its face. 

While it's odd that a petty misdemeanor wouldn't be considered a criminal offense (it's a misdemeanor, after all), Her is right that under Minnesota statutes a petty misdemeanor "means a petty offense which is prohibited by statute, which does not constitute a crime and for which a sentence of a fine of not more than $300 may be imposed." It might be only be a petty offense, but the lost or stolen legislation is also a prime example of the petty tyranny being directed against gun owners in Minnesota this session. 

Even though a petty misdemeanor may not be treated as a crime in statute, in order to enforce that fine police and prosecutors are still going to have to get involved, and that's one reason why Cass County Sheriff Bryan Welk and County Attorney Benjamin Lindstrom are publicly opposing the bill, as well as the proposed storage mandates for gun owners. In a letter to lawmakers, the pair argue that law enforcement has to prioritize what crimes to investigate and prosecute, and tasking them with enforcing these laws will do nothing to improve public safety. 


“HF 4300 does more than limit the right to self defense in public, it limits it inside one’s very home. If this storage law passes, it will most certainly invite expensive litigation in any case where prosecution of a violation is attempted. In good times, a prosecutor’s office must allocate finite resources across a spectrum of cases,” Lindstrom and Welk’s letter stated. 

“That is, each criminal prosecution comes with thousands of dollars of constitutional due process that must be respected. Budgets are such that only a fraction of this amount can be allocated to a case on average.” 

Lindstrom noted county attorneys’ offices across the state have a hiring crisis and the Cass County Attorney’s Office had a vacancy for roughly 15 months. 

“That is a big deal in a small office. Criminalizing law-abiding gun owners and inviting expensive litigation does nothing to protect public safety,” the letter stated. 

With respect to HF 601, Welk and Lindstrom said it creates a duty to report lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours of their loss or theft. The proposed law, they wrote, can be read to mean criminal liability can be attached even when a person lacks actual knowledge of the loss or theft.

“This proposal on its face makes criminals out of victims. If criminal laws related to theft and burglary do not stop these crimes, how does punishing the victim stop them?” Lindstrom and Welk’s letter stated, “In reality, a duty to report within 48 hours has the capacity to disincentivize reporting because it creates criminal liability if a report misses the narrow deadline.


The sheriff and prosecutor also point out that Minnesota statutes already provide opportunities to charge someone who allows guns to fall into the hands of unauthorized juveniles, while HF 4300 criminalizes gun owners who don't store their firearm locked up while it's not within their immediate control, even if there are no kids in the home. The pair argue that the only Minnesotans who'll be impacted by the proposed storage mandate are lawful gun owners, while the thieves who might want their guns will be left untouched. 

“Likewise, this proposal will do nothing to prevent unauthorized access to firearms and will create financial burdens to ownership by law-abiding citizens. By its very terms, HF 4300 permits compliance with the mere use of a trigger lock. Such a lock does nothing to prevent a burglar or thief from stealing a firearm and transporting it to another location where such a lock can be defeated, and the firearm freed for future use in crime. At the other end of the spectrum, a quality safe substance can cost thousands of dollars, creating an insurmountable financial barrier to lawful firearms ownership.”

Welk and Lindstrom also wrote the mandatory storage requirement raises constitutional concerns, pointing to a 2021 United States Supreme Court decision in the case New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, where it struck down New York restrictions that limited the right of law-abiding gun owners because they prevented law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.


I don't think the DFL lawmakers behind these gun control bills care one bit whether their proposals are constitutional or not. They're looking to put the screws to gun owners, and these are two ways to do so. If they get challenged in court there's always a chance they'll be upheld, and until or unless an injunction is granted the laws will remain in force... even if they're not going to be enforced in many conservative jurisdictions.

Instead of trying to criminalize the right to keep and bear arms, the sheriff and county attorney argue that lawmakers should be increasing funding for things like the state corrections department, mental health, and substance abuse treatment. With the DFL majority looking to scrap mandatory minimum sentences for using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime, I doubt that there's going to be much interest in giving the prison system more money, and even if legislators do throw a few dollars towards mental health and substance abuse treatment, that doesn't mean they'll do that instead of adopting new restrictions on gun owners.

When we last spoke to Rob Doar from the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus he said that he's had several productive conversations with rural DFL lawmakers, and right now there's no guarantee that either HF 4300 or HF 601 have the votes to get to the governor. Hopefully we'll see more sheriffs and prosecutors speak out about the fundamental flaws with both proposals before the bills hit the House floor, but gun owners around the state should follow Welk and Lindstrom's lead and contact their representatives and senators to voice their objections to these bills. 


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