WASHINGTON – With the U.S. Senate trying to find accord on legislation that would encourage states like Minnesota to temporary confiscate of guns from people that may do harm, longtime backers of such legislation hoped to build momentum to push the state adopt a “red flag” law and other gun measures.
Opposition to such a law, mostly by Republican state legislators, has blocked approval of it and other gun legislation in the state. Even if Congress is able to win approval of legislation that would provide Minnesota with grant money and other incentives to establish a red flag law, also known as extreme risk protective orders, there may not be enough support in the Republican-controlled state Senate to do so.
State Senate Public Safety Chair Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, released a statement Tuesday afternoon in response to a Senate DFL press conference meant to draw attention to bills to expand background checks of gun purchasers, raise the age for the purchase of a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21, and establish an extreme risk protective order law in the state. Limmer’s statement said the DFL efforts “will do little to impact the daily crime levels in Minnesota cities.”
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted what is also known as extreme risk protective orders, which vary state by state but generally allow law enforcement to temporarily take firearms from, or ban the sale of firearms to, people deemed to be a risk to themselves or others. Many of these states, including Florida and Maryland, approved these laws after the slaughter of 20 schoolchildren and six educators at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School 10 years ago.
But attempts to approve such a law in the Minnesota Legislature have faltered. The state House approved a red flag law, as well as legislation that would expand background checks, in the 2019-2020 session, but the legislation did not move in the state Senate.
Since then, with a smaller DFL majority in the state House, the gun laws were shelved.
But with the slaughter of 19 children and a teacher in Uvalde, Texas, and with Congress on a renewed push to pass even the most modest of gun laws, the issue was raised by the DFL state legislators again.
On Tuesday, Senate DFL members renewed attention on the red flag bill and the enhanced background check bill and said — if a special session is ever convened to finish work on spending and tax bills — they would introduce a new bill to raise the age for buying assault-style rifles from 18 to 21.
“The vast majority of Minnesotans all across the state and from all walks of life and political views have repeatedly said how much they support reasonable restrictions on violent persons’ access to guns through pre-sale background screenings and extreme risk protection orders,” said state Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.
He accused his GOP colleagues of repeatedly refusing to hold hearings or any discussions on gun legislation.
Meanwhile, the U.S. House held a hearing Wednesday featuring the victims and family members of the Uvalde shooting and another mass slaying at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., last month.
In pre-recorded testimony, 11-year-old Miah Cerrillo told of the horror of witnessing her teacher and fellow classmates being shot and of covering herself with a dead classmate’s blood to try to elude the shooter. Miah said she remained quiet until she was able to grab her teacher’s phone and call 911. She said she told the dispatcher to “send the police in our classroom.”
The U.S. House voted late Wednesday to approve for far-reaching gun legislation that, would, among other things raise the minimum purchasing age for semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, bar large-capacity magazines, incentivize safe firearm storage in the home and build on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ regulatory ban on bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to fire more rapidly. The U.S. House, controlled by Democrats also plans to vote on a red flag bill on Thursday that has been panned by Republicans as too wide ranging and a threat to constitutional rights.
Votes on U.S. House gun bill split largely along party lines, with all of Minnesota’s Democratic lawmakers voting for it and Minnesota’s congressional Republicans voting against it. Five Republicans joined most Democrats in backing the legislation. Two Democrats voted “no.”
During debate on the gun bills, with crowds of people outside the U.S. Capitol urging lawmakers to take action, Rep. Dean Phillip, D-3rd, read a letter from former Minnesota Rep. Jim Ramstad’s widow, Kathryn Ramsted, who said her husband was one of just six House Republicans who voted for the 1994 Crime Bill, which outlawed semi-automatic rifles until 2004.
“’After so many mass shootings, I cannot understand why Congress does not at the very least,’ she wrote, ban semiautomatic weapons like the AR-15, that’s been used in so many recent mass shootings.” Phillips said.
That U.S. House legislation will not be considered in the U.S. Senate, where a bipartisan group is trying to find compromise on much more modest measures, including a red flag bill and legislation that would allow the inclusion of juvenile criminal records in the data base used by the FBI to screen gun purchasers.
More far-reaching measures that President Joe Biden has endorsed — such as an assault weapons ban — are also not on the table. And Senate Democrats are considering several GOP proposals as a measure of goodwill, including those that tackle mental health and school safety.
Although the U.S. Senate is controlled by Democrats, the party has only 50 seats in that chamber and 60 votes are needed to overcome GOP filibusters of legislation.
So, Senate Democrats need to find at least 10 Senate Republicans who would vote for proposed gun legislation, and the negotiations have been moving slowly. But negotiators continued their talks on Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he has not outlined a timeline for action, telling reporters only that the Senate would vote “in the near future” on gun legislation.