Attorneys association joins Sen. Latz in proposed gun legislation

by T.W. Budig - ECM Capitol reporter

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Latz is carrying legislation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

“The whole package is really about prevention,” said Latz, flanked by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and House bill author Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St, Paul, at a Capitol press conference.

Freeman styled the provisions — one provision dealing with the mentally ill and guns — as a “practical prosecutor’s package.”

As part of the initiative endorsed by the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, the lawmakers propose defining certain domestic violence crimes, such as assault by strangulation, as crimes of violence.

Under crimes of violence law, felons convicted of gun possession could face a three to five year mandatory jail sentence, Freeman explained.

Another provision seeks to outlaw the possession of ammunition by felons.

Too often, Freeman said, hand guns will get tossed out of crowded cars and authorities unable to trace possession through fingerprints or DNA evidence.

“What gun?” the car occupants will say.

But under the proposed legislation, felons, if possessing ammunition, would be breaking the law even without the gun.

“In my view, that’s just as bad as carrying the gun,” Freeman said of felons and pockets of bullets.

Another proposal could place juveniles in adult court the second time they’re caught packing a gun.

Another provisions toughens penalties on those assisting someone obtaining a gun who shouldn’t have one.

They’re going to be doing the same jail time as the person with the gun, Freeman said of aiding and abetting.

Latz, who will also be carrying legislation dealing “straw” gun purchasers, or people buying a gun for someone else, plans to have gun legislation before his committee on Feb. 21 and 22.

He expects a variety of bills, assault weapons bans, restrictions on gun magazine capacity, to come before the committee.

Latz indicated a willingness to hear all of the gun legislation.

“I don’t think it’s fair to tell people we’re not going to hear their bills,” Latz said.

Lesch expects a “vigorous debate” at the Capitol.

Latz views some of the legislation transcending simple geography.

People are afflicted with mental health issues in Greater Minnesota as well as the metro, he said.

The mental health provision in the legislation, Latz said, is a small part of the overall issue of the mentally ill and guns.

It prohibits those found to be mentally ill from possessing firearms, even if their commitment order is stayed by the court.

Currently, only mentally ill people ordered to a state facility are prohibited from possessing guns.

In discussing guns, the law and felons, Freeman indicated it is possible for a felon to appeal to the court for expungement of record — to have their gun possession rights restored, in effect — but that’s difficult to do, he explained.

County attorneys would actively oppose expungement for a violent felon or one recently convicted, Freeman explained.

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com

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