Democrats in Minnesota Senate hold firm to pass contentious gun control measures
Published 9:00 am Monday, May 15, 2023
ST. PAUL — Democratic Minnesota senators held firm despite only a one-vote majority Friday to pass gun control legislation strongly supported by the governor that would align the battleground state with others nationally that have taken steps to keep guns out of the hands of people in crisis and criminals.
The proposals include a “red flag law” that would allow authorities to ask courts for “extreme risk protection orders” to temporarily take guns away from people deemed to be an imminent threat to others or themselves. The provision is part of a broad public safety budget bill that also contains expanded background checks for gun transfers.
The bill passed 34-33 on a party-line vote late Friday after around nine hours of debate.
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“What we are going to be providing — finally — is a path forward for families and law enforcement who know that someone’s exhibiting signs of crisis and danger,” said Democratic Sen. Rob Latz of St. Louis Park, chairman of the Senate public safety committee. “And it will give them lawful tools to separate people in crisis from the firearms that are around them.”
Nineteen other states have some kind of red flag laws, Latz noted at a news conference, including several red states.
Across the country, a few cracks have been opening up in the pattern of Republican-controlled states loosening gun laws while Democratic states like Minnesota tighten them. GOP Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee wants to call a special session to pass what he has avoided calling a red flag law, calling it a “toxic political label.” And two Republicans in a Texas legislative committee broke ranks to back raising the age for buying semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21. But it’s far too soon to say the GOP is changing direction even amid a record-setting pace for mass killings in the U.S.
Some of Minnesota’s rural Democratic senators had long been on the fence. But a key moment came Wednesday when one of them, Sen. Grant Hauschild of Hermantown, announced that he would support the overall bill. The two gun measures were not part of the public safety budget bill that the Senate passed earlier. But they were added Wednesday in the House-Senate conference committee that negotiated the final version, providing some political cover to holdouts by wrapping them into a much bigger public safety package.
Senators from the Republican minority decried several non-firearms provisions that were added to the public safety bill in conference committee that weren’t in the original Senate-passed version of the bill.
Democrats who have a more comfortable majority in the Minnesota House scheduled the package for debate late Friday night on the presumption that the Senate would pass it first, but postponed the debate until Saturday. The House had already passed the gun measures as part of its original public safety bill. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has repeatedly said he will sign the legislation.
The package also includes tougher restrictions on the use by police of no-knock warrants. While it stops short of a ban, it allows only very limited exceptions.
GOP leaders objected to how the final version of the 522-page bill wasn’t posted until around 2:30 a.m. Friday. Members can vote only up or down on a conference committee report. They can’t amend it. And Republicans were upset at their voices being shut out of shaping the final version, which they oppose on Second Amendment and other grounds.
“This bill is actually what bad legislating looks like,” Republican House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth of Cold Spring said at a separate news conference. “Democrats have full control, but a very small margin.”
The Minnesota Legislature is rushing to complete work on the major budget bills of the session before the May 22 adjournment deadline. Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman of Brooklyn Park told reporters Thursday that she wants to adjourn early — either next Thursday night or early next Friday morning. Senate Democratic leaders, however, have not agreed to that.