ST. PAUL -- Law enforcement leaders -- especially those in cash-strapped, smaller communities -- are eager to start selling confiscated guns, and a law taking effect today will allow them to do just that.
Otter Tail County Sheriff Gary Nelson has been stockpiling confiscated guns since a 1994 law outlawed selling them. Recently, Otter Tail deputies seized 57 guns in one raid.
''There's $30,000 worth, roughly,'' he said. ''We're not in a position out here to throw away $30,000.''
Nelson is organizing a gun sale for five central Minnesota counties that want to empty their gun lockers. The sale will be open only to invited, licensed gun dealers. The department is likely to use the money for training, Nelson said.
The law is one of several passed in the 1999 session that take effect today. Others deal with underage drinking, tracking sex offenders and identity theft.
Other new laws taking effect today will:
-- Prohibit the state from paying for art in prisons.
-- Bar sex offenders from becoming school board members.
-- Require a company buying lump-sum structured settlement payments from an insurance company to disclose detailed financial information to the seller.
-- Add new criminal penalties for people who manufacture, possess with intent to sell or sell counterfeit products.
-- Make it a misdemeanor for a student to light a match lighter inside a school in situations where there is an obvious risk of fire.
-- Require agencies responsible for supervising sex offenders to consider the concentration of offenders in an area when telling them where they are allowed to live.
-- Make harming or killing a search and rescue dog a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.
-- Authorize fire chiefs to request employment information on prospective employees from the applicant's former or current fire department.
-- Eliminate state-mandated record keeping and registration with the state for bingo managers.
-- Allow an auto repair business to hold a customer's car until the bill for a car rental is paid.
-- Prohibit landlords from taking a screening fee when he or she knows there are no apartments available.
-- Allow up to four years for people to file medical malpractice lawsuits instead of two years.
-- Require prompt notification of a possible gas leak.
For some smaller enforcement agencies, the gun sales could bring in more than $5,000 a year, said Blue Earth County Sheriff Brad Peterson. That will allow the department to buy some needed equipment.
''It's not like we bring in piles of guns, but once in a while, a raid might produce 35,'' he said.
The department has gotten special court orders in the past to trade guns to Plymouth-based Streicher's Police Equipment for new guns, uniforms and badges.
The new law allows police to sell confiscated firearms only to federally licensed gun dealers. It prohibits the sale of assault weapons. Only guns made before 1899 can be sold to the general public. Those older guns are considered antiques.
Police agencies in large metropolitan areas are more likely to destroy weapons, either because the money they earn from sales isn't worth the bother or they don't want the guns falling into the wrong hands.
''We don't want to put guns back into circulation that have been taken off the street,'' said Anoka County Sheriff's Lt. Larry Klink.
Officials in the Minnesota office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said no statistics exist on how many guns police agencies confiscate.
But Fred Tonne, co-owner of Streicher's, expects the new law to be ''widely noticed'' around the country because only five states allow sales of confiscated guns.
''I would suspect as the word gets around to states and municipalities where it is not yet known, they will ask how they can do it,'' he said.
Another new law makes it a felony to give liquor to minors who then become drunk and are involved in an injury-causing or deadly accident.
Previously, the law provided a felony penalty for the sale of alcohol to minors, but no penalty when it was given away.
The bill came in response to a push from a St. Paul man whose 16-year-old son, Kevin Brockway, was killed in a 1997 New Year's Eve crash.
Prosecutors could only charge the man who gave vodka to the teen-ager with a gross misdemeanor.
Minnesota also will close a loophole in its sex-offender registry. The change will require registration even by those found innocent of committing sexual crimes ''by reason of mental illness.''
Another change is intended to give credit card holders more protection against identity fraud. Criminals often run up credit cards and drain bank accounts for weeks without the victims' knowledge.
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