GUNSMinnesotans Will Soon Be Able to Disarm Dangerous People. Will it Save Lives?

By Chip Brownlee

Published 15 November 2023

Lawmakers and advocates say the efficacy of the state’s new red flag law, set to take effect in 2024, will depend on implementation and enforcement. Minnesota and Michigan are the latest of 21 states to enact Extreme Risk Protection Order laws.

Gun safety advocate Rachael Joseph knows the lasting toll of gun violence. Twenty years ago, Joseph’s aunt, Shelley Joseph-Kordell, was being stalked, harassed, and threatened for more than a year by her distant cousin, Susan Berkovitz. On September 29, 2003, on the 17th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis, Berkovitz opened fire outside of a hearing room where harassment cases were being heard, killing Joseph-Kordell and wounding her attorney.

Berkovitz’s stalking and harassment were well-documented leading up to the shooting, Joseph said. A nearby county had banned her from filing court complaints, labeling her a “frivolous litigator.” A court reporter had complained that Berkovitz was harassing her. Still, Berkovitz was able to buy a .38 revolver for just $60 in an unregulated private sale at a gun show.

“The courts failed to protect her,” Joseph, who runs a survivors advocacy group, told The Trace of her aunt. 

At the time, and for years after the incident, Minnesota continued to allow private sales to proceed without background checks and offered no means by which law enforcement or family members could seek an emergency order to stop dangerous people from possessing a gun. That changed earlier this year, when the Minnesota Legislature approved bills to expand background checks and implement an Extreme Risk Protection Order law

The ERPO law, also known as a red flag law, is set to go into effect in January, and it will allow family members, romantic partners, and law enforcement officers to petition a court for an order to seize guns from people deemed to be imminently dangerous.

Joseph believes that her aunt could have used such an order back then.

“After all of the stalking and harassment, Shelley absolutely would’ve utilized a gun violence protection order against Susan if they’d been available,” Joseph said. “Unfortunately, my family doesn’t get to go back.”

Minnesota and Michigan are the latest of 21 states to enact Extreme Risk Protection Order laws. The two Great Lakes states moved on the heels of the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first significant federal gun reform legislation in nearly 30 years. Though the law didn’t include a national ERPO measure, it did include funding incentives and support for states to enact and implement state-level versions. Minnesota was the first to take Congress up on that offer.