With guns on agenda, group will make its presence felt at Capitol

MARSHALL – Much to no one’s surprise, the Minnesota Legislature is getting in on the gun violence issue, and it’s not waiting around to do it.

Gun-related bills are expected to be introduced this week in the Legislature, and the head of the Minnesota House public safety panel is setting aside three days – next Tuesday-Thursday – to go over ways to curb gun violence.

“I expect action this session, I really do,” said Heather Maertens, executive director of Protect Minnesota: Working to End Gun Violence. “I think there’s been a real change in the conversation around this. I think there’s much more recognition that we have to do something to prevent gun violence; doing nothing is not a good option.”

Maertens said she is “very optimistic” there will be meaningful changes to the state’s current gun laws that will help save lives.

Some of the proposals to be introduced this week include the plugging of loopholes that allow citizens to purchase firearms at gun shows or on the Internet without having to go through a background check; strengthening the state’s criminal background check system to ensure that felons and anyone with severe mental illness are not allowed to buy guns; and limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines.

A proposal from a Republican legislator that could also come up would allow more teachers and school workers with permits and training to carry loaded weapons in schools.

Maertens said Protect Minnesota has become deeply invested in improving the state’s laws concerning background checks.

“We will stick with the things that are clearly going to do some good,” Maertens said. “Our focus has been on closing that giant background check law gap. There’s about 40 percent of gun sales that don’t have to go through background checks because they’re considered ‘private’ sales at gun shows, or online sales, person-to-person, garage sales. That’s really a basic thing that needs to be put in place in order for everything else to work.”

Maertens said there are also bills coming up that will improve the process of any background check to better screen those who could be deemed dangerous.

Protect Minnesota will also keep a close eye on the gun trafficking issue. A bill backed by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association and the MN Chiefs of Police Association would outlaw the practice of “straw purchasing” – when an individual with no criminal record buys a gun for a person prohibited by law from owning one.

Maertens said the state needs to adopt gun trafficking laws of its own and not rely on federal laws for prosecution. All anti-trafficking laws are currently handled at the federal level.

“We want the state to adopt its own law,” she said. “It’s easier for local law enforcement to go after traffickers instead of having to go to the feds for authority.”

While it has been reported the National Rifle Association will seek to prevent major changes to the state’s background checks or to the availability of assault weapons, the NRA says it will focus on measures to only improve background checks and to ban straw purchases.

Maertens said the state also needs to adopt legislation that changes the definition of “assault weapons.”

No votes are planned on specific bills next week.