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As Gov. Tim Walz sat down to sign two new gun restrictions into law, Rachael Joseph was at the back of the large pack of supporters, holding aloft a framed black-and-white photo of her late aunt, Shelley Joseph-Kordell.

"This has been a long time coming," Joseph said. Her aunt was fatally shot at the Hennepin County Government Center in 2003 by someone who purchased a gun at a show for $60 without a background check, Joseph said.

When Walz walked into the crowded reception room to sign the $3.5 billion public safety bill, he said, "There's a reason the room is full because a vast majority of Minnesotans have been waiting too damn long for this."

The new law expands background checks for gun sales at shows and transfers and creates a red-flag-style provision allowing family or law enforcement to petition a judge to take guns away from someone determined to be mentally unstable.

"Minnesota is a better state," Walz said after sitting down to sign the bill with former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., at his side. Giffords survived an assassination attempt in 2011 near Tucson, but was left with a traumatic brain injury. She resigned from Congress in 2012 and started an organization called Giffords to promote gun control.

"Be bold. Be courageous. The nation is counting on you," Giffords said.

She was one of many speakers at the event, some of them emotional, including Melissa Kennedy, a physician at the Buffalo Allina Health Clinic. She was there on Feb. 9, 2021, when a patient with mental health issues showed up and started shooting, killing Lindsay Overbay, a medical assistant with two young children.

Kennedy was wearing a gold necklace with 755 engraved on the front, the clinic's street number, and Overbay's initials on the back. Kennedy also wore a red T-shirt signaling her involvement in the national gun safety group Moms Demand Action.

The physician mentioned her three young children and said the fight isn't over. "You will continue to see these red shirts show up and be fierce advocates for gun reform," she said.

Andre Locke Sr., left, father of Amir Locke, and Amir’s uncle Andrew Tyler shared an embrace after the bill signing. Amir Locke was fatally shot by Minneapolis police.
Andre Locke Sr., left, father of Amir Locke, and Amir’s uncle Andrew Tyler shared an embrace after the bill signing. Amir Locke was fatally shot by Minneapolis police.

Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune

Not celebrating Friday was Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus lobbyist Rob Doar, who said in a statement that the bill had "no Republican support and bipartisan opposition. Rather than address the root causes of gun deaths, Minnesota is attacking the Constitutional rights of Minnesota's peaceable gun owners."

He said the gun caucus "remains committed to engaging in meaningful dialogue on policies that are truly effective in reducing firearms-related deaths, not the unconstitutional and ineffective policies being passed into law today."

Also speaking at the signing was Senate Judiciary Chair Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who couldn't pinpoint a starting date on the gun provisions, saying they would take time to establish after the law takes effect July 1. He noted that he has been working on gun measures since 2002 and nodded to the DFL victories in November.

"Elections matter," he said.

"For me, it's a policy matter," he added of the new law. "For a lot of people, it's a lot more than that."

Richfield Police Chief Jay Henthorne spoke on behalf of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, saying the gun changes won't prevent all violence but they will help.

Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, said he grew up evading gun violence on the south side of Chicago. "I had to take this moment to do something, to take some action," he said.

While the signing was focused on the gun measures, the new public safety law holds many other dramatic changes for the criminal justice system.

It includes the Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act (MRRA), allowing prison inmates the possibility of cutting time off their sentences through education, training or treatment. It sets up a Clemency Review Commission and no longer requires Board of Pardons decisions to be unanimous.

Republicans have denounced the bill, calling the MRRA provision a "get out of jail free card." The new system is expected to take more than a year to set up.

Among the other changes, the new law prevents peace officers from joining or supporting hate or extremist groups. It also puts extreme limits on the use of no-knock warrants. And it creates new crimes of organized retail theft and car-jacking in a similar approach to federal racketeering laws. Strip searches of juveniles also will be restricted.

Other items in the sweeping law are a new Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls, and a requirement that hotel rooms have carbon monoxide alarms. Ramsey County will get $5 million toward new therapeutic homes to replace Totem Town.