Minnesota Senate OKs stiffer gun straw purchase penalties, binary trigger ban

The Minnesota Senate on Thursday passed a bill to increase criminal penalties for people who buy guns on behalf of those ineligible to do so themselves.

Boosting the penalty for so-called “straw purchases” from a gross misdemeanor to a felony has bipartisan support in the Legislature. It became a priority for lawmakers this year following the fatal shooting of two police officers and a firefighter in Burnsville. The shooter was unable to obtain guns legally but got them through his girlfriend, according to a federal indictment.

“This bill is one more step we can take together to keep our families and law enforcement safe from gun violence,” said Sen. Heather Gustafson, DFL-Vadnais Heights. “Gun violence requires a multifaceted response and this bill closes loopholes within current laws in order to hold offenders accountable.”

Beyond boosting penalties for straw purchases, the bill also makes the law apply to all guns, not just semiautomatic rifles or pistols. People who can prove they were coerced into making a straw purchase because they feared for their safety won’t face penalties.

The measure passed the Senate 34-33 on party lines Thursday, with DFLers all in support. But it has a few differences from the House version, so lawmakers from both chambers will have to reconcile differences in a conference committee and vote on the bill again before it can reach the governor’s desk.

Gov. Tim Walz says he backs boosting straw purchase penalties.

Binary trigger ban included

While both Republicans and Democratic Farmer Labor lawmakers support boosting straw purchase penalties, the version that’s been advancing through the Legislature has only DFL support. No Republicans backed the bill that passed in the Senate Thursday.

That’s because DFLers have included in the bill a gun control provision Republicans don’t want — a statewide ban on binary triggers.

The modification allows semiautomatic weapons to fire when the trigger is depressed and again when it is released, boosting the rate of fire. They were used in the shooting of police in Burnsville earlier this year and in Fargo, N.D., in 2023, prompting the push to ban them.

Owners of binary triggers would have to surrender or dispose of them if the ban became law, prompting Republicans to paint the bill as gun confiscation and raise concerns that the law could violate Constitutional rights. Gun rights activists say the ban also could implicate other types of trigger activators.

“This is not the solution, there are elements in this bill that are good, but confiscation of guns is not the solution,” said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove. “Especially when criminals don’t follow the law … that provision will only be targeted on law-abiding decisions.”

Gustafson disputed the Republican arguments about constitutionality.

One area where DFLers and Republicans had some agreement was boosting the sentence for straw purchases from five years to 10 years if the weapon is used to assault or cause harm to a public safety officer.

They amended their version of the bill to include that longer sentence, so Senate and House lawmakers will have to iron out that difference. Gustafson backed the change.

What’s next?

DFL lawmakers are advancing two other gun control proposals this session — a requirement to report lost and stolen guns in a timely manner and a requirement to lock up guns when not in use.

Both have passed in the House, but have not yet been scheduled for a vote in the Senate, where the DFL has a one-seat majority. The big question around any gun control bill at the Capitol is whether they’ll get support from DFL lawmakers in northern rural districts.

Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown, who represents northeast Minnesota’s arrowhead region, voted for the straw purchase bill, but has not said whether he’ll back the other two gun control measures.

Last session he backed universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders when they came before the Senate as part of a broader public safety bill.

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