County attorney and sheriff blast barrage of DFL gun bills

The top law enforcement officials in a northern Minnesota county have teamed up to take aim at DFL-sponsored bills they maintain will increase litigation, criminalize law-abiding citizens and fail to stop gun crime. Cass County Sheriff Bryan Welk and County Attorney Benjamin Lindstrom didn’t mince words in drafting a blunt letter to their local legislators blasting firearm legislation they claim completely misses the mark.

“If the legislature is looking for solutions to the problems of gun violence, it should look at giving law enforcement the tools and resources to deal with the laws already on the books,” the Cass County officials wrote. “Expanded funding for corrections, mental health and substance abuse would do far more to solve problems than making criminals out of law-abiding gun owners.”

The sheriff and county attorney zeroed in on a bill (HF 601) requiring Minnesotans to report a missing or stolen gun to authorities within 48 hours. The two Cass County officials pointed out several red flags raised by the bill in the Brainerd Dispatch.

Welk and Lindstrom said it creates a duty to report lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours of their loss or theft. The proposed law, they wrote, can be read to mean criminal liability can be attached even when a person lacks actual knowledge of the loss or theft.

“This proposal on its face makes criminals out of victims. If criminal laws related to theft and burglary do not stop these crimes, how does punishing the victim stop them?” Lindstrom and Welk’s letter stated, “In reality, a duty to report within 48 hours has the capacity to disincentivize reporting because it creates criminal liability if a report misses the narrow deadline.

The prosecutor and sheriff also took aim at a bill (HF 4300) that requires residents to keep firearms locked up when not in use. Besides questioning the proposal’s constitutionality, they warn that the measure would tie up scarce resources, resulting in endless and expensive litigation.

“HF 4300 does more than limit the right to self defense in public, it limits it inside one’s very home. If this storage law passes, it will most certainly invite expensive litigation in any case where prosecution of a violation is attempted. In good times, a prosecutor’s office must allocate finite resources across a spectrum of cases,” Lindstrom and Welk’s letter stated. “That is, each criminal prosecution comes with thousands of dollars of constitutional due process that must be respected. Budgets are such that only a fraction of this amount can be allocated to a case on average.”

But it’s not just the new gun laws DFL lawmakers want to put on the books that troubles them. It’s the tough laws already in place to penalize criminals who use guns that some legislators want to get rid of.

In a phone interview, Welk said he was also concerned with HF 4277, which calls for the mandatory minimum sentences for offenses involving possession or use of a firearm or other dangerous weapons being eliminated, victim crime reporting requirements being modified, a task force on mandatory minimum sentences being created, grants related to alleviating gun violence being established, and money appropriated.

“We’re just hoping that the Legislature enacts laws that make sense and actually do something, as opposed to things that seem more like political statements,” Lindstrom said in a phone interview.

The current DFL-controlled legislature has displayed little interest in considering the views of law enforcement officers. Yet perhaps the embarrassment and blowback that led liberal lawmakers to revise their tone-deaf bill on school resource officers got their attention long enough to avoid shooting themselves in the foot again.