Jan 30, 2024 - News

St. Paul landmark ordinance on gun storage yields no charges in first 7 months

Illustration of a gun with a gavel for a trigger.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Last May, gun safety advocates celebrated the unanimous passage of a landmark ordinance tightening firearm storage rules within the city of St. Paul.

  • Supporters hailed the "safe storage" law, believed to be the first of its kind for a Minnesota city, as a necessary move to reduce gun thefts and injuries.

Yes, but: In its first seven months on the books, the City Attorney's Office received zero citations or case referrals related to the law, city officials confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: Without enforcement data, it's difficult to gauge whether the ordinance is having its intended effect.

Catch up fast: The ordinance, which passed the council on a 7-0 vote, makes it a crime to leave a firearm unattended and unsecured or without a locking device in a place where it could be accessed by someone else.

  • Violators could face a fine and up to 90 days in jail, along with confiscation of the weapon.

What they're saying: Mayor Melvin Carter, who supported the change, said a lack of cases doesn't mean the ordinance isn't working.

  • In an interview with Axios, he argued the primary goal is educating gun owners about safe storage, not enforcement.
  • "It's harder to demonstrate those gold medals, those firearms that we never heard about because they got locked up."

Reality check: The mayor acknowledged that St. Paul "may never have a finite, isolated metric that tells us what the specific impact of this specific policy is."

  • But he added that tracking metrics like accidental discharges and injuries will prove whether the totality of the city's efforts to reduce gun violence is working over time.

The other side: The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, which has threatened to sue if the ordinance is enforced, says the fact that the city attorney hasn't prosecuted anyone supports their arguments that the ordinance is illegal and unconstitutional.

  • "[It] indicates that they do not believe this ordinance would pass scrutiny under Minnesota's preemption law or the Second Amendment," Nick Majerus, the group's communication director, told Axios.

Of note: Carter said the ordinance is "unquestionably" legal and that "any threat about hypothetical litigation would not impact the work of the St. Paul Police Department."

What's next: Police spokesperson Mike Ernster told Axios that an active case involving an unoccupied, unlocked vehicle "with a handgun in plain sight inside" remains under investigation.

  • That case is "expected to be brought forward for charging consideration in the near future."

What's next: A statewide push

The gun storage debate is set to return to the Minnesota State Capitol this year.

Driving the news: Gov. Tim Walz recently expressed support for a statewide law modeled after St. Paul's, saying it "makes no sense not to have safe storage."

What we're hearing: Advocates, who argue such changes will reduce deaths and injuries, told Axios that the proposal will be a top priority this year.

  • "[It's] really a tool for us to make sure that Minnesotans are doing the right thing," Protect Minnesota executive director Maggiy Emery said.

The other side: Opponents have called last year's bill, which stalled in the House, an "overreach of government authority" and pointed out that state law already prohibits leaving an unlocked firearm where it can be accessed by a child.

What we're watching: Whether the proposal can clear the DFL's one-vote majority in the Senate.

  • Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Chair Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) at a recent news conference called that the "big question."
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