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House bill to toughen gun storage laws clears public safety panel

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

Michael Brasel was murdered with a stolen gun.

The gun that ended his life on May 6, 2023, in St. Paul’s Saint Anthony Park neighborhood belonged to one of the killer’s family members, who did not secure it properly.

In emotional testimony, pausing at times to compose herself and dry her eyes, Michael’s widow Hilary Brasel spoke at a joint House hearing Thursday in support of legislation that would penalize those who don’t keep their guns properly stored.

“Nothing will ever replace Michael’s life that was taken and all the life we had yet to live together,” she said. “My sons no longer have their father, I no longer have my husband, and the ripples of his death have torn apart the lives of our family.”

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville) sponsors a bill that would expand existing laws on firearm storage to specify that a person must either store a firearm unloaded and equipped with a locking device or store the firearm in a firearm storage unit.

A primary goal of HF4300, she said, is to curb the rising number of children accidentally being killed by guns, which increased by 83% between 2012 and 2021, according to a presentation given to the House Public Safety and the House Children and Families finance and policy committees.

House public safety committee considers bill to toughen gun storage standards 2/29/24

Becker-Finn doesn’t like to call unintentional deaths of children by guns “accidents” because there is a clear, known cause for these preventable deaths.

“At the end of the day, behind every child who is harmed by a gun is an adult who didn’t store that gun or handle it safely,” she said.

Because the bill was officially in possession of the public safety committee, it was those members that approved the bill, as amended, on a split-voice vote and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Children killed by guns overtook deaths by motor vehicle accidents in 2020 to become the No. 1 cause of death in children and adolescents, according to a presentation by Dr. Rebekah Mannix, pediatric emergency medicine physician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Becker-Finn said no single law is going to prevent all the ways children are killed by guns, but this legislation will reduce incidents where kids die through gun mishaps or unintentional shootings.

Under current law, it is a crime to store or leave a loaded firearm in a location where the person knows, or should know, that a child is likely to gain access to the firearm, unless the person takes reasonable action to prevent a child from accessing the firearm.

The bill would make violations a crime that could be punished by up to a felony. It would also prohibit a person guilty of negligent storage of firearms at the gross misdemeanor level from possessing a firearm for three years.

Hilary Brasel, whose husband was shot and killed during an attempted robbery, testifies Feb. 29 in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, right, that would establish standards for safe storage of firearms. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)

Rep. Walter Hudson (R-Albertville) summed up Republican opposition to the bill, which is that it focuses on guns and how they were acquired rather than the criminals using them.

The focus of this public safety committee, he said, “should be dealing with the people who perpetrate crime and getting them out of society.”

In written and in-person testimony, opposition to the bill also came from the National Rifle Association, Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, and other gun owner groups.

“House File 4300 is a well-intentioned bill, but it misses the mark,” said Brian Gosch, Minnesota state director for the NRA. “It only picks on guns; it doesn’t seek to require secure knives, hammers, vehicles, or other items that can be used to hurt people. As with all gun control, the overreaching goal is to discourage gun ownership and eventually eliminate it.”

Becker-Finn took umbrage at that characterization.

“There’s no agenda, there’s no ulterior motive,” she said. “I’m not trying to take your guns. My gun safe is full, so I don’t want your guns.

“I’m sick of reading stories about kids dying from being shot. That’s why I’m doing this.”

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