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A11-1294 Osuji v. Azonwu (Ramsey County)

In rare bipartisan gun vote, House passes domestic violence bill

By a vote of 111-15, the House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would bar suspected domestic abusers who are under active restraining orders from possessing firearms or ammunition.

The bill aims to bring Minnesota statute into conformance with existing provisions of federal law, according to its chief author, Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park.

In remarks during the floor debate, Schoen cited research that links the presence of a firearm in a home to a six-fold increase in the risk of domestic fatalities. The bill will also reduce the hazards faced by police who respond to “highly volatile” domestic calls, said Schoen, who works as a policeman in Cottage Grove.

Unlike other gun-related proposals that have been floated at the Capitol in recent years, the measure did not elicit furious pushback from gun rights groups.

“This bill is going to save lives – no matter how many that is, one or fifty or one hundred – it’s going to save lives,” said Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter. Calling himself a “strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” Ward called the bill “a good compromise.”

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, expressed similar sentiments.  “I find myself in a position to actually vote for a bill that has the word gun in it,” he said.

Earlier in the week, Dill expressed reservations about the measure’s due-process implications. Acknowledging there is “no perfect fix,” Dill on Wednesday noted that individuals would not have to relinquish ownership of their firearms but, rather, would be required to transfer possession for the duration of the court order.

The bill also garnered critical support from one of the leading gun rights champions among House Republicans, Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder.

Addressing his fellow lawmakers, Cornish said he worked to improve the legislation rather than sitting back and letting “a bad bill pass.”

“We made a number of good changes and got almost everything we wanted,” said Cornish, who added that he now supports the bill “without reservation.”

The original version of the bill required accused domestic abusers to surrender firearms to either a law enforcement agency or federal licensed firearms dealer. The amended version allows for the transfer of weapons to a third party such as a friend or relative who doesn’t reside in the same home.

Another change made at the behest of gun rights advocates addressed a requirement that such transfers be documented with a signed affidavit.

Rob Doar, a lobbyist for the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, said making court filings publicly available would create a “dangerous precedent.” Doar said that concern was allayed by a stipulation that the affidavits be sealed.

Doar said gun rights advocates successfully lobbied for a clarification in language to ensure “nobody would lose their property prior to having their day in court.”

Heading into the session, the bill was listed as a top priority of advocates for domestic abuse victims.

“This is huge. This is a very good thing,” Shelley Cline, the executive director of the St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, said after the House vote. Cline said the bipartisan action is “a reflection that we, as a whole community, are standing together to eliminate domestic violence.”

Liz Richards, the executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, said the bill is “clearly stronger than the federal law” because of the requirements governing the transfer of weapons. Federal law does not address that, Richards said.

Less controversial provisions of the bill expand the categories of domestic violence-related convictions that trigger a prohibition on possessing firearms. Those offenses include domestic abuse, stalking, assault (1st through 5th degree), or assault by strangulation against a family or household member.

Companion legislation in the Senate, authored by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, has not come to the floor and differs from the House version in some regards. Doar said he expects the Senate to take up the House version and predicted that it will pass.

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