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House passes bill expanding firearm storage requirement following fierce floor debate

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn introduces HF4300 on the House Floor May 2. The bill would establish new storage standards for firearms. (Photo by Michele Jokinen)
Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn introduces HF4300 on the House Floor May 2. The bill would establish new storage standards for firearms. (Photo by Michele Jokinen)

Acknowledging no single law is going to prevent all tragedies, Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville) nonetheless urged passage of a firearms storage bill she sponsors in the hope that fewer kids may die from gun accidents.

Existing laws on firearm storage would be expanded 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.

Following a discussion that lasted more than 11 hours, the House passed HF4300, as amended, 68-64 late Thursday and sent it to the Senate.

The goal of the bill is to change unsafe gun behavior, said Becker-Finn, who spoke of growing up around guns and has a great respect for the rules on handling them safely.

That means keeping guns out of the hands of children who don’t understand the power they have, she said.

“I’m no stranger to guns,” she said. “I teach my kids how to be safe around guns, that’s my responsibility as their parent and as an adult.” 

Republicans argued, in part, the bill would infringe on Second Amendment rights and would make homeowners less safe in their own residence.

Government shouldn’t be able to reach into our own home and tell us we can’t have our constitutionally given right, said Rep. Ben Davis (R-Merrifield). “(A homeowner should) decide how they are going to store their firearms in their own home.”

It is now a gross misdemeanor 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.

This bill would delete the reasonable action standard and replace it with specific actions required of gun owners. It would be a crime to store, keep, or leave a firearm in any place unless the firearm is unloaded and equipped with a locking device; or loaded or unloaded in a locked firearm storage unit or a locked gun room.

An acceptable locking device would include, but not be limited to, a biometric lock, trigger lock, barrel lock, or cylinder lock.

Becker-Finn said these provisions are in line with good firearm storage procedures that all responsible gun owners follow.

Graduated penalties, exceptions

Penalties would range from a petty misdemeanor to a felony. The highest penalty – a felony with up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine – could be imposed if an unsecured firearm is used in a felony crime of violence or to inflict substantial or great bodily harm on, or to cause the death of, someone other than the owner or authorized user of the firearm.

A person found guilty of gross misdemeanor negligent storage of firearms, would be prohibited from possessing a firearm for three years.

Safe storage requirements would not apply to inoperable antiques or replicas, plus those firearms:

  • used at a high school shooting sport event;
  • used at an area or facility designated or operated primarily for the use of firearms, or at a shooting preserve; and
  • owned or possessed by a peace officer while the officer is engaged in the performance of official duties or stored in a police or sheriff station.

Becker-Finn successfully amended the bill to add exceptions for firearms used at a lawfully organized educational or instructional course on firearm safety; or being used when following state laws while hunting.

Republican objections, amendments

Republicans had several objections, including that many provisions are too vague and would therefore make it difficult for a court to interpret them and a responsible gun owner to comply with them.

Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (R-North Branch) objected to vagueness of a provision establishing a gross misdemeanor penalty for a person not adhering to the storage rules “if a child is present in the area where the firearm is stored, kept, or left.”

“If a child is ‘in the area’ — I don’t know what that means. Is it within five feet, is it the room, is it in the house, is it in the neighbor’s house?”

Rep. Paul Novotny (R-Elk River) unsuccessfully offered an amendment to exempt firearm storage requirements “if the violation occurs as a result of an unlawful entry.”

“I don’t want to, once again, victimize somebody who is a crime victim,” he said.

Becker-Finn said someone following the provisions in the bill would not be liable in that situation.

Several other Republican-offered amendments were not adopted, including those that would have:

  • added firearms owned or possessed by a person who fears imminent danger from a family member to the list of firearms exempted from the proposed changes in law;
  • added victims of harassment with restraining orders or protection orders to the list of individuals exempted from the proposed changes in law; and
  • kept existing law unchanged, but expand a negligent act subject to penalties to include allowing firearms to come into the possession of a person prohibited from possessing them.

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