A stirring discussion about the legal carrying of firearms hit the tip of numerous targets Wednesday at the Minnesota state capitol. Minnesota is a state where open carry is allowed with a permit, but concerns have been raised about open carry on government complex premises.
According to an analysis by Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St.Paul, about 13 states in the nation allow guns at their capitols.
“We are clearly in the minority,” he said to the Advisory Committee on Capitol Security and members of the public who attended the meeting, including the groups Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance and Moms Demand Action for Gunsense in America.
Minnesota’s capitol is known for it’s accessibility to the community, with various open hearings and committee discussions, field trip visits from community schools, rallies and protests, and public tours of the courtrooms and historical artwork.
But with thousands of people visiting the Capitol each year, the absence of front door and around-the-clock security was brought to attention at Wednesday’s meeting.
“There are threats that our capitol is vulnerable,” said Chair Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon, who set a tone of concern referencing the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy in Newtown, Conn. last December. She also claimed it would be advisable to look into other states’ gun legislation as it relates to their capitols for direction.
Rochelle Schrofer of Minnesota Public Safety, who is captain of Capitol Security and Executive Policy, announced new security positions being implemented for the capitol’s 140-acre property. With a $1.25 million public safety budget increase this year, enhanced precautions such as employing a full-time emergency manager, six new armed and trained troopers and additional non-licensed security personnel are in the works, intended to create full-time surveillance.
But does increased security still mean changes to gun legislation?
The current policy for a citizen to legally enter the capitol with a firearm involves a single notification, either by email or a letter to the public safety commissioner, of intent to carry a firearm within Capitol walls. The person’s name is then put on a list by Capitol security, but the name and the one-time notification is all that is required in perpetuity, a protocol that some members of the public believe might be too simple.
Schrofer said the language of the policy “is very vague,” but it is clear the statute does not require individuals to submit proof of their permit in the notification, nor their permit number, county allocation, expiration date, photo identification or driver’s license number.
“From a law enforcement perspective there is some concern,” Schrofer said, although most individuals provide at a minimum the county, expiration date and sometimes a photocopy of their permit or driver’s license.
Bruce Gordon, Department of Public Safety director of communications, counts 832 people currently filed on the security list.
However, the list is not updated on the basis of active permits for handguns, the legal firearm to carry in the state. If a citizen had notified the commissioner and was listed in 2008, there is no obligation to follow up whether that individual has renewed his or her permit to carry or if the permit had been revoked in the last five years.
The state of Texas allows conceal and carry to citizens with a handgun license, and permits them to enter the state Capitol with a legal firearm. Upon entering the governmental complex, handgun owners must proceed through a separate security line for validation of the gun and the license.
Although carriers on governmental grounds may be authorized to do so, concerns for the possibility of gun violence from the community and even governmental employees were part of Wednesday’s discussion. According to reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, 17 percent of homicidal shootings at a workplace occurred at government facilities.
However, pro-gun supporters and permit holders claim legal gun owners should still not be the ones under the microscope, but that the discussion should be about the illegal carriers.
“It’s not about guns, it’s more about civil rights,” said James Peterson, Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance member, who feels lawfully owning a gun gives individuals the right to protect themselves, their families and others when law enforcement can’t.
On the viewpoints of Paymar at the meeting, “I think his fears are affecting our safety,” Peterson said.
For Linda Winsor, Minnesota state leader for Mom’s Demand Action for Gunsence in America, the issue is about violence prevention.
“It’s up to the U.S. to protect the public,” said Winsor. While expressing disappointment in the discussion’s focus on the loose capitol carry policy, she agrees in the right to own a gun.
“There is a perfect right to own guns and there are reasons to have them in shooting ranges [and] for hunting,” she said, “But in terms of out in public, I think in our civilized society, it is under special circumstances when people should do that.”
Solon says the committee is in “exploratory mode” with the legislation, with more research needed and more discussions to be had. The additional personnel can be expected in September, with the new troopers to be initiated throughout the rest of the year. A significant part of Solon’s aim at Wednesday’s meeting was to raise issues of the threats out there and address the concerns of people on all ends of the conversation until conclusions in the state are made.
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