MN Legislature may pass gun bills on straw purchases, safe storage, reporting stolen weapons this session

Gun Rights

Minnesota lawmakers are weighing a variety of gun-control proposals this year, but only a handful have a good chance of passing.

Bills calling for a safe storage requirement, a requirement to report lost and stolen guns in a timely manner, and setting stronger penalties for straw purchases appear to have the most support this session. Gov. Tim Walz called for their passage in his State of the State address last month.

Increasing penalties for those who buy guns for others not eligible to purchase guns — known as straw purchasing — has support from both Democratic-Farmer-Labor and Republican lawmakers. But depending on whether that bill retains additional gun-control provisions, Democrats may have to move forward on their own. That also looks to be the case for a universal safe storage requirement and a reporting requirement for stolen firearms without GOP support.

DFLers have controlled the Senate, House and governor’s office since the beginning of 2023, and while they have passed a broad slate of legislation typically favored by liberals and progressives, their movement on gun control has not been as sweeping.

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Gun measures

Last year, lawmakers passed two significant gun-control measures: a “red flag” bill creating extreme risk protection orders, and universal background checks. Both got through the Legislature after questions about whether they’d make it through the Senate, where it wasn’t clear if they’d find support from a handful of DFLers in rural and suburban districts.

They passed, but gun-control advocates at the Capitol, like Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Chairman Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, acknowledged those were their best shot at getting something through to the governor.

Other proposals that DFLers have backed, such as a ban on semiautomatic rifles sometimes known as assault weapons, have not seen serious legislative action this year. Walz last year pitched magazine capacity limits and banning people younger than 21 from buying semiautomatic rifles, though neither proposal gained steam.

An assault weapons ban bill sponsored by Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-St. Paul, which lists more than a dozen weapons such as those patterned after the AR-15,  didn’t get a hearing by the first legislative deadline on March 22, more or less ruling out any further action before the session ends in May.

Straw purchases

DFLers and Republicans support stiffening penalties for straw purchasers — people who buy guns legally and give them to ineligible people such as those with felony convictions. But it may not really matter if it ends up getting approved as part of a broader public safety bill with other provisions Republicans won’t support.

Straw purchase penalties became the third top gun-control priority this session after the February shooting of Burnsville police officers Matthew Ruge and Paul Elmstrand, and firefighter/paramedic Adam Finseth. The shooter, Shannon Gooden, was prohibited from owning a gun after pleading guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon in 2008 but was still able to obtain one.

Ashley Anne Dyrdahl, Gooden’s girlfriend, was federally indicted in March for straw purchasing two AR-15-style firearms. Dyrdahl has pleaded not guilty.

“While straw purchases are already illegal under Minnesota law, our law contains loopholes that need to be closed in order to hold offenders accountable,” said Rep. Kaela Berg, DFL-Burnsville, as she presented a straw purchase bill to the House Public Safety Committee in March.

Berg’s bill would elevate the penalty for straw purchases from a gross misdemeanor to a felony in Minnesota. It also would ban binary triggers, which give firearms a rapid rate of fire by allowing them to fire both when the trigger is depressed and released. Republicans raised concerns about straw purchase penalties and another restriction being bound together.

Republicans, who advocated stronger straw purchase penalties last year, say they welcome the harsher penalties, though they questioned why their DFL colleagues did not include the stronger penalties in last year’s public safety bill. They have their own version of the straw purchase bill which does not include the binary trigger ban.

In general, GOP lawmakers have opposed new gun-control legislation, and have instead advocated for stronger enforcement of existing laws in order to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Safe storage

A bill backers are calling the “safe storage” requirement bill would mandate firearms stored in the home to either be unloaded and locked or stored in a gun safe. Anyone found in violation could potentially face felony penalties if the firearm is used in a crime.

Proponents say requiring guns to be locked up will curb thefts and prevent children from gaining access to weapons.

Testifying in favor of the safe storage bill at a Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee hearing in March was Hilary Brasel, whose husband Michael was shot and killed last May in St. Paul’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood when he confronted a group looking for valuables in a family car.

The gun used in the killing of Michael Brasel, a youth hockey coach and father of two, was stolen from an unsecured closet. Two teenagers pleaded guilty in his death, with one sentenced to 25 years in prison for aiding and abetting second-degree intentional murder.

“I believe the proper storage of guns could have prevented Michael’s murder and can prevent this type of tragedy from destroying other lives in Minnesota in the future,” Hilary Brasel told the committee.

Also testifying in favor of the bill was Bloomington Police Chief Booker Hodges, who said he does not generally support gun-control legislation but supports safe storage requirements and stiffer penalties for straw purchases.

Gun rights supporters noted the state already has storage rules to protect children. Further, it applies a “one-size-fits-all” standard to people who have very different needs, said Rob Doar, senior vice president with the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus.

“This treats a farmer who lives by himself in Roseau who keeps a firearm available to defend his livestock from predators the same as a day care operator in Edina,” he told the committee. “That one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t recognize the realities of how different people live their lives in this state.”

Reporting stolen guns

The third gun-control bill that’s a priority for DFLers this session would create a reporting requirement for lost and stolen firearms.

A person who owns or possesses a firearm would have to report the loss to a law enforcement agency within 48 hours of the time the person knew or reasonably should have known of the loss or theft.

The first violation would be a petty misdemeanor. Second offenses would be a misdemeanor and third violations would be a gross misdemeanor.

If a person does report a lost or stolen firearm, they would be immune to criminal prosecution “for an offense pursuant to state law related to the storage of firearms.”

The bill also requires law enforcement agencies to report lost or stolen firearms to Minnesota’s Commissioner of Public Safety within seven days.

Supporters say a reporting requirement will aid law enforcement efforts to track stolen weapons, which are often used in crimes.

Gun rights groups, including the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus and the National Rifle Association, oppose the bill, with the NRA requesting the efficacy of a reporting requirement in preventing crimes.

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