Hoping to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands, St. Paul City Council members are set to vote this week to enact a series of requirements on how and where gun owners must store their firearms and ammunition.
Mayor Melvin Carter has promised to sign the ordinance, which would require St. Paul residents to use trigger locks, gun safes, or other devices to keep firearms “inaccessible or inoperable” when unattended. The changes also require gun owners to store their ammunition somewhere “not readily available for access by another person.”
“Loose guns pose a danger to our entire community,” Carter said last month in a joint statement with Police Chief Axel Henry, citing 32 gun-involved homicides in the city last year, along with more than 200 gunshot wounds and another dozen firearm incidents in St. Paul schools.
The proposal also came in the wake of headline-making shootings in January, when an employee at the Jimmy Lee Recreation Center shot a 16-year-old; and in February, when a teenage boy shot three other teens outside a funeral for a 15-year-old stabbed to death at Harding High School.
After several weeks of delays to fine-tune the legal language, the City Council has scheduled a vote Wednesday on the proposed gun storage ordinance. With all seven council members signed on as co-sponsors, the proposal is all but certain to pass.
“Because of so many guns being stolen from from vehicles,” said Ward 2 council member Rebecca Noecker, “the tragic number of children who accidentally get access to a firearm and shoot and kill themselves in homes, the number of suicides that could be prevented if it were just a little bit harder to access a firearm — all of these things added up to point toward safe storage as a way that the city could take action.”
Leaders of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus have said St. Paul’s proposed ordinance is a clear violation of a state law that limits local governments’ ability to make their own gun laws. If enacted, they’ve expressed confidence that a judge would strike down the ordinance — if the city ever tried to use it.
Doar also noted that in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 gun ruling District of Columbia v. Heller, the justices struck down on Second Amendment grounds a Washington, D.C., ordinance that also required trigger locks.
“I’m inclined to believe that the city does not have plans to enforce this ordinance, and wouldn’t be capable of enforcing it if they wanted to,” said Rob Doar, who leads government affairs for the Gun Owners Caucus. “It appears they may be pursuing it for the attention and headlines, despite knowing the ordinance is void and unenforceable.”
“I have never heard anything so ridiculous,” Noecker replied. “There is no reason why I or anyone else in the city would work so hard on something that is not going to be enforceable.”
Noecker said she couldn’t answer detailed legal questions, but added that she worked with attorneys “to do as much as we could without exceeding our authority as a city.”
Minnesota law allows cities and counties to regulate when and where people can “discharge” firearms — and in St. Paul, that’s the section of city code where council members have voted to insert gun storage requirements.
The proposed ordinance forbids anyone from leaving a “loaded or unloaded firearm unattended in a location where … another person who is not an authorized user is likely to gain access” — including inside a car — unless the gun is secured with a “locking device.”
As the proposed ordinance defines the term, a “locking device” could include a biometric lock, trigger lock, barrel lock, gun vault, a locked cabinet or box, or “any other appropriate locked container where a key is kept separately.”
Doar said that gun safes are among the most secure methods for storing a firearm. He said trigger locks “offer a slight deterrent, and may be useful at keeping children from accessing them, but most can be bypassed by using simple hand tools.”
Doar found the ordinance’s reference to loose guns left inside vehicles confusing: “I cannot see any relevance whatsoever to how putting a trigger lock or cable lock on a gun prevents it from being stolen out of a car.”
Noecker said there’s a simple reason why the ordinance names vehicles specifically: “We have such a large number of guns that are stolen from vehicles.”
The ordinance would take effect 30 days after Carter signs it.