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Silencing the report

MN Police to get Silencers!

By: Karl B. Johnson
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 12/3/2003

Unknown to most citizens, a new state law lets police use silencers

silencerThis past June 30, I happened to be reading the local daily newspaper. As I scanned the articles, I noticed a line that struck me as odd. It read, “Police will be able to use gun silencers for high risk entry.” This was a blurb informing the public of the new laws that had been enacted by the Minnesota Legislature.

In military and police talk, the sound of a firearm discharging is referred to as a report. So I found it odd that the moment that law enforcement should be the most accountable to its citizens — during the use of deadly force and the possibility of taking a human life — could now be obscured by the passage of this law.

The bill was listed as S.F. (Senate File) 945. Republican Senators David L. Knutson, Burnsville; Paul E. Koering, Fort Ripley; Pat Pariseau, Farmington; and Democratic Senator Jim Vickerman of Tracey sponsored the bill.

I was really interested in the story behind this type of law, so I sent each of them an email asking them what reason was given for such a bill. I asked why such a bill was introduced, how the bill would be beneficial to the citizens of Minnesota, and inquired about the shared philosophy of the authors. I also asked each senator how their constituents felt about the law.

I waited for about 10 days and finally followed up the email with letters. I received a phone call from Senator Paul Koering. Koering was quite candid and said that State Representative Dale Walz, from Baxter, Minnesota, who happens to be a law enforcement official, approached him and asked if Koering would sponsor the bill. The bill was not what is called a “stand alone bill”. That is, it was attached to another bill and there was never any public debate on it from the full Senate and full House.

I explained to Koering that my intention was not to confront law enforcement, but that law enforcement needed to be held accountable. I asked Koering if he was aware of what the discharge of a firearm was called by military and police personnel. He was silent. I responded, “It is called a report, and in essence, what this bill does is to silence the report of accountability that police officers have to the communities in which they are entrusted to enforce laws.”

Koering said, “I never thought of that. Listen, I live in Brainerd, I live in the country, and this is not something that I was thinking about. The state representative that gave me the bill said that it was designed to help police officers keep a low profile in case they [law enforcement] need to shoot out a light or something prior to or during a drug bust. Something of that nature.”

Koering sounded sincere enough. I explained to him that the citizens in Minneapolis, and in particular citizens of North Minneapolis, have had more than a strained relationship with the police department. Given an incident last year wherein an eight-year-old boy was accidently shot in a drug raid, it was rather difficult for me to conceive how this type of bill could have been passed by the Minnesota Legislature.

Koering stated again that this was not a part of his thinking at the time of the bill’s passing. He went on to say that he would bet me dinner that the other authors of the bill would not be calling me. I told him that I would not take him up on the bet because I didn’t want to show up, pay, and watch him eat.

The way in which this bill became law intrigued me, so I looked further into how Minnesota enacts laws. I was, to say the least, alarmed.

I discovered that in order for a bill to become law, a similar bill must go through the Senate and the House. The bills don’t have to be identical, just similar.

I then called State Representatives Neva Walker’s and Keith Ellison’s offices to ask them what they knew about this new law as members of the Minnesota House. Walker was upfront and said, “I didn’t know that there was this type of bill being considered.”

I left a message with Ellison, and he called me back the next day. Ellison told me that Dale Walz of Baxter, Minnesota, also introduced the bill in the Minnesota House.

I asked Ellison what arguments Walz used to introduce this legislation. Ellison said, “Dale Walz stated that in case there was the need for police to approach a crime scene and there was a need to disable apparatus such as shooting out lights.” This was almost word-for-word what I heard from Koering.

I asked Ellison the same question that I had asked Koering. I informed him that I came from a law enforcement family and that I had a little knowledge of tactical control of high-risk entry, and asked him, “Had it ever occurred to call Excel Energy and ask them to turn off the power instead of giving silencers to police departments?”

I was amazed that the responses from both Koering and Ellison were almost identical. They had not given that a great deal of thought. Ellison was quite candid. He told me that the bill had come to a committee of which he is a member. He informed me that he had spoken out against the bill and voted against the bill on more than one occasion.

Ellison also told me that the bill was discussed in committee but not in the full House. It was attached to an omnibus funding bill, which he voted against. However, it still received enough votes to pass.

I asked Ellison if he thought that this type of legislation would help to improve the relationship between the community and the police department in his district. He said, “Absolutely not… And in looking back at this bill, it is one ugly bill.”
Not only is this law an ugly law, but the way it came into being is perfectly legal. The language of the bill is very unclear as to when and what constitutes a “high risk” situation. The decision to use a silencer can be left up to each police chief within each policing district in Minnesota.

With a bill that is this important, the Minnesota legislature did not give it a hearing of the full House and full Senate. It was pushed through both houses by the same individual and was attached to larger funding bills so that it could become law. Without Governor Tim Pawlenty’s signature, this could not have happened.

Citizens were so focused on the Conceal and Carry Law that took center stage in the last legislative session that they didn’t even see this coming. Now the citizens of Minnesota have police departments that have silencers. Of all the people that I spoke with, the email I sent, or the letters that were written, no one has yet to answer how such a law will benefit the citizens of Minnesota.

To contact your senator about S.F. 945, visit http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/members/alphalist.shtml
To contact your representative about the bill, visit http://ww3.house.leg.state.mn.us/members/housemembers.asp

Karl Johnson welcomes reader responses to kjohnson@spokesman-recorder.com

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