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Minnesota House debating “red flag” law, expanded background checks

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Debate in St. Paul lasted long into the night on Tuesday, and lawmakers will be back at it again today as the Democratic majority tries to get a “red flag” measure and a “universal” background check bill passed.

Gov. Tim Walz publicly stumped for the legislation at a gun control rally on Tuesday, imploring lawmakers to adopt the measures in the name of public safety, while claiming the bills don’t infringe on anyone’s Second Amendment rights.

‘Every other industrialized nation in the world can find a way to keep their freedoms and not kill their children and their citizens,” Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said during a rally on the Capitol steps. “We can have both.”

Sure we can, but not if we’re adopting gun control measures that don’t protect the public while infringing on those fundamental freedoms. If gun control was the answer, California would be the safest state in the nation. But criminals don’t care what gun control laws are in place. They’ll simply get their guns through illicit means, even in states with “universal” background checks, waiting periods, and a host of other restrictions on law-abiding gun owners.

No, this is a case of “doing something” because Walz and his fellow Democrats think they have the votes to enact the first gun control measures in several years. Whether or not they’re effective or constitutional doesn’t seem to be much of a concern, at least for the majority party.

“This is restricting a constitutional right. A God-given right for us to keep and bear arms,” Republican Rep. Brian Johnson of Cambridge said.

“We are at a point where the adults need to step up and protect our kids and make sure that we’re dong everything we can to keep them safe,” House Majority Leader Jamie Long said.

Everything except focusing on the growing number of violent criminals and the declining number of police officers in the state, apparently. The House bill contains some appropriations for recruiting officers, it’s more of a wink-and-a-nod to the staffing crisis rather than a serious attempt to address the shortfall of uniformed officers in many departments around the state; particularly in the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis is far from its statutory requirement: MPD’s staffing woes have been in the spotlight since Floyd’s murder more than two years ago due to the department’s sudden decrease in officers coinciding with a surge in crime citywide. The department sits at 602 sworn officers, including 37 on a continuous leave of nearly two weeks or more, which is down hundreds from more than 900 officers in May 2020.

According to data collected by the FBI on police staffing, larger metro-area cities (in this analysis, those with populations over 25,000) vary in their staffing per capita: Five suburbs (Lakeville, Maple Grove, Woodbury, Apple Valley and Chaska) were tied for the lowest staffing levels in the most recent data, as of 2021, at 0.9 officers per thousand residents. Just two of the 35 police departments had two or more officers per 1,000 residents, according to the FBI data, including the St. Paul Police Department, which has exactly two officers per 1,000 residents.

Despite its higher ratio of officers to residents, the St. Paul Police Department has also seen its share of retention and recruitment issues. Normal attrition due to retirements has coincided with a drop in students studying law enforcement and increase in officers that left due to post-traumatic stress, leaving the department short of its authorized strength of 619 officers, said Deputy Chief Jack Serier.

“We’ve seen a drop in the number of people who are even eligible to apply for a job at the department and at the same time, we’ve got an increase in the number of people retiring or separating from employment,” he said. “So we’ve got two curves that are headed in opposite directions from where they should be for us to be able to fill our needs for new employees.”

Just throwing money at the problem isn’t going to be enough to fix the issue, and imposing new gun control laws that police are expected to enforce is a distraction as well as an infringement on the rights of Minnesotans.

While Democrats have a six-seat majority in the state House, which will likely be enough to approve these bills later today, they hold just a single-seat majority in the state Senate, and that chamber’s public safety bill passed last month without any gun control measures attached. Even if the House signs off on these new infringements, gun owners and Second Amendment advocates still have a chance to defeat the proposals before a final vote is cast.

Some Democratic senators from rural districts where hunting, shooting sports and gun ownership are traditions have avoided taking stands.

Rob Doar, a lobbyist with the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said in an interview that he’s “pretty confident” there won’t be enough votes in the Senate for a red flag law. He said he does expect Senate support, however, for background check language that’s stronger than current law but doesn’t go as far as the House bill.

The MN Gun Owners Caucus has been doing an excellent job of pointing out the flaws in these bills and rallying Second Amendment supporters to stand up and speak out against them, and I hope that Doar is right about the future of the “red flag” bill. The next big fight will likely be in a conference committee, but both the House and Senate will have to agree to whatever compromise is reached, and that one-vote majority in the Senate could be the difference between a public safety approach that truly respects the rights of law-abiding residents and one that infringes on them.

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