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The guns used last week to end four lives in Burnsville should have never been in the hands of the man who unleashed more than 100 rifle rounds during an hourslong standoff.

It is still not publicly known what types of firearms or ammunition Shannon Cortez Gooden used to kill two Burnsville police officers, the paramedic who tried to save them and finally himself. But whatever weapons the 38-year-old man reached for, he was barred by law from possessing them because of a previous assault conviction.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) — with assistance from federal law enforcement authorities — is investigating how Gooden obtained the firearms and arsenal of ammunition he deployed in the chaotic standoff at his home on Feb. 18. But people banned from possessing guns have vast opportunity to get their hands on them. And those ordered to relinquish their firearms are often bound by an imperfect enforcement process — a process some critics call an "honor system."

"If I had 100 defendants in my courtroom and I told them all that they have one hour to go buy a firearm and get back to the courtroom, 95 of them could do it," said Chief U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz.

State and federal law carve out prohibitions for gun ownership in cases such as felony convictions, misdemeanor domestic violence convictions, involuntary commitments for mental illness and controlled substance abuse.

But people prohibited from owning guns or ammunition can still obtain them through theft or by buying illegally trafficked weapons and ammo. They also can get them through "straw purchasing" — where they enlist another person legally able to buy firearms to do so on their behalf, a state and federal crime.

Law enforcement officials in recent years have also increasingly investigated cases involving privately made firearms, or ghost guns, which can be assembled at home and often without serial numbers.

The BCA has not disclosed how or when Gooden acquired his guns. One of the two women with whom Gooden had children but was not living with him, told the Star Tribune on Friday that she did not know how he obtained the weapons. She said she learned about them only after the shooting, which took place while children were inside the home.

The BCA said Thursday that Gooden fired more than 100 rifle rounds at police and first responders who were called to his home just before 2 a.m. on Feb. 18 after reports of a domestic incident. Officers Matthew Ruge and Paul Elmstrand and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth were killed. Gooden took his own life with a gun but not before firing at other officers and an armored vehicle.

Court records show that Gooden was convicted in February 2008 of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon after brandishing a knife and throwing rocks during a fight months earlier in a Burnsville shopping center parking lot. The conviction was eventually reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor because he abided by the terms of probation. The order restored his right to vote but barred him from ever owning firearms.

He unsuccessfully petitioned to regain his gun rights in August 2020, explaining that he wanted to protect himself and his family. The Dakota County Attorney's Office opposed the request, pointing to two orders for protection that had been filed against him by the two mothers of his children. Neither woman obtained an order. In a 2017 filing, one failed to appear for a hearing, and a judge dismissed the second for lack of evidence.

Shannon Cortez Gooden
Shannon Cortez Gooden


Inconsistent methods

Thomas Chittum, a former second-in-command at the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), said the criminal justice system is inconsistent in trying to ensure that those barred from owning guns relinquish their firearms. Too often, he said, law enforcement "just trusts that they have."

"A very small minority of jurisdictions actually have some proactive approach to ensuring someone has divested," said Chittum, now an executive at SoundThinking, the gunfire sound location service formerly known as ShotSpotter. "In most places, there is no formal mechanism. It's a place where I think law enforcement, public safety and the courts could make significant strides."

Lindsay Nichols, policy director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, also expressed concern that not enough is done nationwide to ensure people relinquish guns when ordered by a court.

"It requires a dedicated effort on the part of the courts and law enforcement," Nichols said. "The system really needs to be set up to notify the person about ways they can relinquish their guns and to ensure that they do."

Research from Washington state published last year in the journal Criminology & Public Policy pointed to the need for stronger enforcement of firearms removal from people under civil protection orders or criminally convicted of domestic violence. Such enforcement would help reduce the potential for gun deaths and injuries among domestic violence victims, it said.

The study found that local jurisdictions were challenged in implementing and enforcing orders barring people from possessing firearms. In many cases, compliance was solely based on an "honor system," the study said.

A specialized unit in King County, Wash., which includes Seattle, ensures firearm surrender orders are followed. It's a resource-intensive endeavor requiring law enforcement, prosecutors, advocates, a court order expert and other staffers.

Nichols said one of Minnesota's two major DFL-backed gun measures taking effect this year is an important step to close a loophole that allowed prohibited persons to buy guns. Under the law, background checks must be performed even in private gun transfers involving sellers who are not federally licensed dealers.

Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, said the expanded background check law chokes off a major path for the purchase of guns to be used in crimes. Pinto and other Minnesota Democrats now back proposals to require secure storage of firearms and that gun owners report lost or stolen weapons to authorities.

"That is part of the process of ensuring the guns don't end up in the hands of people who show themselves to be dangerous," Pinto said.

As of Jan. 1, Minnesota also has a new extreme risk protection order — a "red flag" law. It allows people or law enforcement authorities to petition a judge to take firearms away from a person deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. Since the law took effect, judges across the state have received 18 petitions and granted eight, according to the Minnesota Judicial Branch.

Republican state lawmakers have proposed enhanced penalties for repeat offenders and a measure to ensure follow-up to remove firearms from those with domestic abuse backgrounds who have been ordered by a judge to surrender the weapons.

"We need to support all aspects of our criminal justice system with adequate resources, and then hold prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement accountable to fully charge, sentence, and follow through on any judgments made to keep the community safe," said Sen. Michael Kreun, R-Blaine, who is sponsoring the follow-up measure.

Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River, a retired sheriff's office sergeant, backs a public education campaign on straw purchasing. Citing the Burnsville shooting, Novotny said he will call on the state's largest county attorneys' offices to start releasing data on the origin of guns used in crimes.

Sen. Ron Latz, the St. Louis Park Democrat who chairs the Senate's Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said he will examine Kreun's proposal but questioned whether the state's criminal justice system has enough resources for such a mandate.

"The ability to stop gun violence or reduce gun violence is a function of just so many pieces in the puzzle and we pass things that add pieces, but there isn't any one magic wand that you can wave that's going to solve the problem," Latz said.

The ATF is meanwhile trying to carry out as much education for licensed gun sellers and owners as it does enforcement operations — particularly the signs of suspected straw purchasing.

"It's an ongoing issue, that constant balancing act of enforcing whatever statutes that we're looking at on firearms and also protecting Second Amendment rights. It's a fine line," said Travis Riddle, special agent in charge of the ATF's St. Paul division.

"We have great discretion on prosecutions on what we seek sometimes prosecution is not the best avenue, sometimes it's just education."

Schiltz, the chief federal judge, said it's up to defendants in federal cases to figure out how to get rid of any guns once they are prohibited. Even when someone is under supervised release after leaving prison, they are among the dozens of people who could be assigned to a single probation officer. The officer can search homes, but, Schiltz said, "they're not opening every drawer; they're not looking through luggage."

"It would be very, very easy for someone to possess a firearm and it not be spotted by the probation officer," Schiltz said. "Even though in theory there's closer supervision and there's that extra layer of protection, in reality it has very little deterrent effect on somebody who wants to possess a firearm."

Star Tribune staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.