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Investigation helps inspire change

A 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation exposed the state ignoring evidence that could help put violent felons behind bars. They're not ignoring it anymore. After our story aired, state officials changed their minds.

The law couldn't be more clear. Convicted violent felons don't get to touch a gun... ever. But we uncovered evidence that hundreds of violent felons may be breaking that law. We found that evidence in the state's own records by doing something the state refused to do... until now.

Get convicted of a violent crime and The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension keeps a record.

Get a license to shoot deer and the Department of Natural Resources keeps that record.

Find the same person in both and you've found evidence of a possible crime. When we did it we found more than 150 matches. "Being in the woods with someone who is a convicted felon and not knowing that and they're carrying a rifle... that should scare everybody," said Bill Guelker of the Minnesota Department of Corrections at a Senate hearing.

If the state had checked seven years ago, Donald Blom might have been in prison at the time he kidnapped and murdered Katie Poirier. Blom was a convicted rapist with a firearms hunting license.

Sen. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, has been trying to get the state to compare those two databases ever since. "The Governor should have done this on his own. All the governors should have done this on their own. They didn't."

Last January the Governor's office sent us to the D.N.R. for answers. C.B. Bylander told us, "The purchase of a hunting license doesn't necessarily mean that you are in possession of a firearm."

But when Senator Skoglund showed our story at a committee hearing, the tide turned. "There were people who came into the committee with their arms folded and against it and saw the story and heard the testimony and said it only makes sense to pass."

"We should mandate KSTP to do this," joked Senator Dave Kleis at the hearing.

But without a companion bill in the House, the issue was dead. Or so we thought.

"I said, why not? Why shouldn't we do this?" said Bob Johnson of the B.C.A.. Even without a state law, his agency decided merging the two databases was a good idea. They'll send the matches to law enforcement agencies and probation officers. "If we can provide them a tool and it helps 'em, the better off we all are."

Last January a spokesperson for Governor Pawlenty told us he didn't think matching the data was a good idea. Now that an agency under his control is doing it anyway, we called back. It turns out the Governor's office now supports what the B.C.A. is doing.

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