US: Tougher penalties for straw gun buyers take effect this summer under new law in Minnesota

- Tuesday, 04/06/2024, 11:36

It will soon become a felony to buy a gun for someone else not legally allowed to have one — known as a straw purchase — under a new law effective Aug. 1.

US: Tougher penalties for straw gun buyers take effect this summer under new law in Minnesota
Source: ITN

It's been a gross misdemeanor, but it will increase to a felony punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If the firearm is used in a violent crime, penalties boost to five years behind bars and a $20,000 fine. 

The provision was part of a 1,400-page mega-omnibus bill that passed in the final hour of the legislative session that ended in chaos. Gov. Tim Walz signed the legislation in late May, but held a ceremonial bill signing on Monday surrounded by lawmakers and law enforcement at St. Paul Police Headquarters. 

Rep. Kaela Berg, DFL-Burnsville, said the new law will make it "easier to prosecute cases where a person has placed a firearm in the hands of a prohibited person." In 2019, then-Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told a panel of lawmakers the penalty under the previous law is "insufficient," suggesting the felony crimes the office would be more likely to prosecute.

Republicans for a few years had sought to increase the criminal penalties, but this year the DFL majority endorsed it, too, in the wake of the three Burnsville officers who were killed in the line of duty in February. The shooter was not allowed to have a gun due to a prior felony conviction, and federal prosecutors have charged that man's girlfriend for illegally buying him guns.

The bill signing Monday comes just days after Minneapolis police officer Jamal Mitchell was shot and killed on the job. The man responsible wasn't authorized to have a gun either — though it's unclear how he got firearms.

"The problem we're seeing here is keeping firearms out of the hands of the wrong people. And when there are this many firearms on the streets, when they are this accessible to people, tragedies like we saw last Thursday are just all too common," Gov. Tim Walz said. 

The new law also bans "binary triggers" that can double the rate of gunfire. Prosecutors said the device was used in the Burnsville shooting. 

They are not very common, but can sometimes be pre-installed on a firearm when someone purchases it. Republicans support tougher penalties for straw purchases, they raised concerns about the binary trigger language and did not ultimately support of the bill.

"It's another tool in our belts to go after gun crimes," said St. Paul Police Assistant Chief Paul Ford at the Monday news conference. 

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will also have to include new provisions in a report it produces for the legislature that give background information on gun trafficking investigations in the state and the number of firearms seized. This and the binary trigger restrictions take effect Jan. 1 of next year.