ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Senate Republicans moved Tuesday to try to change the direction of the contentious gun control debate in this election year by unveiling a slate of bills to address the problem of gun violence, mostly by increasing penalties for crimes involving firearms.
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.
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.
Others could be more controversial, such as a bill to require Minneapolis and St. Paul to spend 10% of the money they get from a state program called Local Government Aid to hire more police officers.
“The whole state has a vested interest in this because we go to Vikings games, concerts and eat in restaurants in these cities,” said Sen. Roger Chamberlain, of Lino Lakes.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent said at a separate news conference that the GOP proposals “simply do not do enough to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, domestic abusers and those who may harm themselves.”
Kent said Senate Republicans are only thing standing in the way of two House-passed bills from becoming law: one requiring universal background checks for firearms sales and transfers, and one for a “red flag law” to allow courts to issue “extreme risk protection orders” to temporarily remove guns from people judged to be an imminent threat to others or themselves.
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.