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Committee votes down plans to keep guns out of Capitol

ST. PAUL — Efforts to ban guns from the Minnesota Capitol failed Tuesday, but they could come back for further debate before a Capitol security advisory committee presents its final report to the Legislature.

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The issue has been discussed for years, never more than this year, when anti-gun efforts attracted large Capitol crowds but gained little traction.

The advisory committee headed by Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, which is to recommend what to do about security to the Legislature in January, approved recommending hiring more state troopers and civilian Capitol security officers and putting security for all 17 Capitol complex buildings under the Public Safety Department. But the two Republicans of five committee members present succeeded in stopping a proposal to keep guns out of the Capitol, State Office Building and Judicial Center.

Chief Justice Lori Gildea abstained from voting on several proposals that she said could end up in front of her Supreme Court. A Democratic senator was not at the meeting, leaving the four remaining members evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Prettner Solon said she did not expect the recommendations to change in January, when the committee meets to prepare its final proposal. However, if there is a Democratic majority at that meeting, tighter gun control could come up.

“I’m disappointed,” Prettner Solon said after Tuesday’s meeting.

She proposed forbidding pistols in the House and Senate galleries and committee rooms because “emotional issues are discussed.”

Rep. Michael Paymar, D-St. Paul, offered a plan to keep guns out of key Capitol-area buildings.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said there have been no gun-related incidents at the Capitol. He called gun-banning proposals “fixing something that isn’t broken.”

“Where do we stop with this trend to try to protect us from everything?” the longtime Douglas County sheriff said.

Paymar, however, said just because nothing has happened is not a good reason for defeating his proposal.

“Hope is not a very good base to build public safety,” Paymar said. “The Capitol is vulnerable.”

Paymar and Prettner Solon said Minnesota is an unusual state in not having security screening at Capitol entrances. Prettner Solon said she visited capitols this year in Oklahoma and Arkansas, both pro-gun states, and had to pass through security stations before being allowed in.

Keeping guns out of the Capitol is important, she said. “It is the right thing to do; whether we can afford it is another question.”

Each metal detector would cost $15,000, and an X-ray machine would cost $45,000. Security officials said they would need one state trooper and two civilians at each monitored entrance.

During a public comment period, Oliver Steinberg of St. Paul said the country has gone from one nation under God to “one nation under surveillance.”

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.