MN Conceal-carry becomes law


Conrad deFiebre, Star Tribune

It took the longest debate in memory on the floor of the Minnesota Senate, but a bill to make permits to carry handguns in public available to more people gained final legislative approval Monday and was signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

It is to go into effect in 30 days. Eventually, according to an official legislative estimate, it could increase the number of people licensed to tote guns on Minnesota streets from fewer than 12,000 now to about 90,000.

For 7 1/2 hours Monday, Senate DFLers railed against the measure and the parliamentary legerdemain that brought it directly from the House with no opportunity for Senate amendments. Six DFL senators even donned bulletproof vests as they denounced the bill as "insanity," "lunacy" and "sheer madness."

The bill's Republican sponsors, led by Sen. Pat Pariseau of Farmington, dismissed the protests as fear-mongering and doomsday predictions, maintaining that 34 other states have adopted similar measures without catastrophic consequences.

"If I want to have a gun in my purse, that should be my choice, not the sheriff's," said Sen. Julianne Ortman,
R-Chanhassen.

In the end, a small group of outstate DFL senators who favor gun rights bucked their leadership's opposition and tipped the balance in favor of the bill. The vote for final passage was 37 to 30.

What comes next is a sweeping reversal of Minnesota handgun policy that has been in effect since 1975. Under that system, police chiefs and sheriffs have had broad discretion to grant or deny permits for occupational needs or personal protection.

In some areas, especially the Twin Cities, critics say, authorities have abused that discretion by denying permits to nearly all applicants.

Under the new system, sheriffs will be required to issue permits to all applicants 21 or older who meet largely objective standards of U.S. citizenship or permanent residency, handgun safety training and a criminal and mental health background check.

Supporters vs. foes

The bill's final victory defied formal opposition from more than 300 churches and other groups in Minnesota, including the three major statewide police associations, city councils, and health and education groups.

According to senators on both sides of the issue, the bill was supported by only three organizations: the National Rifle Association (NRA), a local group called Concealed Carry Reform Now! and the Republican Party of Minnesota. But Pariseau said many individuals and street police officers also back the legislation.

She counted thousands of violent crimes in the 20 Minnesota counties where handgun permits have been most restricted and added: "It's time that we allow people to prevent the violence on themselves."

DFLers responded with statistics of their own: Minnesota now stands eighth-lowest in the nation in the rate of firearm deaths from homicide, suicide and accident. All of the states with better rates have gun laws similar to the one Minnesota is abandoning. The dozen states with the highest rates of firearm deaths all have the system Minnesota is adopting.

"This state will forever be changed, and not for the positive," said Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, a Lutheran pastor. "What are we scared of? Why are we so fearful? Why should violence beget violence? I'm supposed to arm myself and get even? It does not make any sense to me."

In addition, the House Republican tactic of amending the measure onto an unrelated bill previously passed by the Senate was branded "a conceal and carry approach to legislation" by Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.

The procedure meant that DFLers could criticize but not change details of the bill that they said made it worse than similar laws in many other states. For example, critics said, public parks, playgrounds, city halls and the State Fair may not bar guns from their premises, while malls and churches face a cumbersome process of posting signs and verbally informing licensed gun-carriers that their firearms aren't welcome.

"I wouldn't worry about honest people next to me in church carrying guns," said Sen. Michael Jungbauer, R-East Bethel, a graduate of Moody Bible Institute. "But I would worry about the criminals."

Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL-Minneapolis, said the bill's lack of a Minnesota residency requirement will make the state a magnet for gun-lovers from the handgun-restrictive neighboring states of Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.

"This bill was written by the gun industry and it's all about their profits," she said. "The Midwest is the one place they haven't infiltrated yet. This will make Minnesota the place to come and get your gun."

Ranum also criticized the bill's limits on evidence of applicants' dangerousness that sheriffs may consider in deciding whether to issue permits. For example, alleged crimes that a person has been acquitted of cannot be factored in.

That means a sheriff could not weigh any of the evidence presented in the murder trial of O.J. Simpson should he seek a permit, Ranum said.

"O.J. Simpson was not seeking a permit," Pariseau replied. "But maybe his wife needed one."

Conrad deFiebre is at cdefiebre@startribune.com.

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