Minnesota Republicans aim to loosen gun laws

Published 10:39 am Thursday, March 9, 2017

ST. PAUL — Republican lawmakers in Minnesota want to remove permitting requirements to carry a gun and create a “stand your ground” law with pair of bills that a House committee heard Wednesday.

The GOP-led Legislature is seeking to capitalize on its majority by passing the two bills that are popular with their constituents. The elimination of permit requirements and broader immunity for shooters acting in self-defense were debated at hearings a day after a gun safety rally at the Capitol in opposition to the two measures.

Republican Rep. Jim Nash, who authored both bills, said they will strengthen the state’s Second Amendment rights without compromising safety. Supporters of the measures joined the Waconia lawmaker, saying felons and those in the criminal gang database would still be barred from carrying guns — similar to the state’s current laws.

Email newsletter signup

Under the proposed carry bill, the penalty for illegally possessing a gun would be raised from a misdemeanor to a felony.

In 2016, Minnesota law enforcement issued a record 71,156 permits, over 26,000 more than the previous year.

Opponents of the bills, which included the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, used those record numbers to say that Minnesota residents have little trouble obtaining guns.

“We think that the Legislature has struck a fairly good balance with our current law … by the fact that it requires backgrounds and requiring applicants to complete training in gun safety,” said MPPOA Executive Director Dennis Flaherty.

Minnesota law enforcements leaders agreed, saying they cause significant risk to the safety of officers and Minnesota residents.

“(The bill) eliminates the safety training requirement for those who choose to constitutionally carry, allowing even people who have never handled a gun to carry one in public,” said Maple Chief of Police Paul Schnell, speaking on behalf of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

Bills to alter gun laws often draw large crowds and Wednesday’s hearing was no different as a number of people personally affected by gun violence, most who had family members or friends killed in shootings, spoke in the packed hearing room to condemn the bills.

St. Paul resident John Ploetz, whose daughter was shot and killed by her estranged boyfriend in April 2014, said he doesn’t have a problem with people possessing firearms, as long as they are properly regulated. He said he believes that “watering down” the current law will increase the likelihood of killings similar to his daughter’s.

National Rifle Association members and other gun rights advocated pushed back against the emotional testimonies, asking lawmakers to look at national data showing that violent crime has decreased since its peak in the 1990s.

Advocates said the self-defense bill, also referred to as the Defense of Dwelling and Person Act, will help clear up a number of conflicting court rulings and laws.

Hamline Professor Joseph Olson, who was instrumental in passing the state’s current concealed carry law, said the self-defense bill’s main purpose is to clarify rules without lessening the requirements to use deadly force.

Still, Nash said that the bill would repeal a legal ruling that requires a person to attempt to retreat if possible before shooting an assailant.

Democratic lawmakers were largely against the bills, saying they disproportionately affect people of color and increase the chance of death in domestic assault cases.

“I want to voice some of my concerns with the testimony,” said Minneapolis Rep. Raymond Dehn. “You can twist statistics any way you want to try to make a cogent argument.”

He said proponents were ignoring the issues that arise from the bills by blindly citing statistics that support their case.

In the end, lawmakers didn’t vote on the bills, but instead set them aside for inclusion in a larger bill.

Similar legislation in the GOP Senate has yet to get a hearing. While Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he may personally support them, he isn’t putting his weight behind them as the Legislature begins to shift toward its budget-setting responsibilities.