Gun rights bills enter Minnesota’s House — how far will they get?
ST. PAUL -- As the Legislature warms up, House Republicans have authored a series of strong gun rights bills -- though it remains unclear how much traction they'll get in the Senate, and some have earned a veto from Gov. Mark Dayton in prior years.
ST. PAUL -- As the Legislature warms up, House Republicans have authored a series of strong gun rights bills - though it remains unclear how much traction they’ll get in the Senate, and some have earned a veto from Gov. Mark Dayton in prior years.
But the members behind the bills feel there’s momentum this year - and proponents and opponents on the sidelines see this push as a particularly strong one.
“I think nationally, maybe because of fear or terrorism or crime, there’s more interest than ever,” said Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, a gun rights advocate who chairs the pivotal public safety committee and has authored one of the bills.
Still, Cornish said he’s hesitant to push the bills right out of the gate: “We don’t want to make it look like all we’re interested in guns, right out of the gate start with gun hearings. So what we’d rather do is start with heath care, the budget, those others first.”
Marit Brock, a volunteer chapter leader with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, sees the constitutional carry and “stand your ground bills” as part of a national effort.
“These same bills (are) being introduced all over the country,” Brock said.
Her group has been mobilizing against them by calling members “to let them know if they don’t support this, really we’ll have your back.”
The first of three bills authored so far is the “defense of dwelling and person act” - commonly referred to as the “stand your ground” bill - which technically is not a gun bill, as it doesn’t mention guns.
But opponents qualify it as such, noting that most fatal “stand your ground” incidents involve firearms.
The bill - which currently is the only one with a companion, or similar, bill in the Senate - expands the types of incidents in which it is legal to take another person’s life.
Under current law, a Minnesotan can only intentionally take another person’s life if they reasonably believe it will prevent “great bodily harm” (the highest standard of harm), death or a felony in their own home.
The new law would allow lethal force to stop a variety of felonies, whether a person is in their home or not. Those crimes include a variety of assaults, arson, burglary, robbery and kidnapping.
And as for the defense of a person’s own home, “An individual taking defensive action … may use all force and means, including deadly force, that the individual in good faith believes is required to succeed in defense …
“The individual is not required to retreat,” the law states.
Someone entering a home “by stealth” can be assumed to be an imminent threat that can be met with deadly force, the law says, unless the resident knows the person being stealthy has a legal right to be there.
Secondly, Cornish himself has authored a bill this session that loosens restrictions for handgun permits - making them good for life (as opposed to having to have them renewed every five years), and cutting the fee for them in half, from $100 to $50.
A third bill takes Cornish’s proposal a step further - known as the “constitutional carry” bill, it eliminates the need for a permit to hold a gun on public property entirely in most cases, though it would allow people to apply for an “optional” permit. It also adds a sentence into the law stating, “The Legislature of the state of Minnesota recognizes and declares that the second amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms.”
Finally, Bryan Strawser, with the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said his group is working to get a fourth bill allowing for “reciprocity” - recognizing gun permits from other states - introduced. While Strawser said the language has yet to be fully ironed out, he said it would either require Minnesota to recognize permits from all other states, or define some specific criteria for which states would be excluded - such as states that don’t require background checks.
Current law lets Minnesota recognize out-of-state gun permits only from states that are “similar,” without giving specific criterion.
Two of the bills have been introduced in recent years, only to be countered by a veto by Dayton.
The “defense of dwelling” and reciprocity bills were combined into a single piece of legislation that reached the governor’s desk in 2012. At the time, Dayton said he opposed it due to strong concerns from the law enforcement community.
“The Chiefs Association and county attorneys from metro area came out against it. The biggest departments with the most urban crime were adamant that this put officers in danger,” said Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington, who was a state legislator at the time and often speaks at the Capitol as part of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.
Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, who has authored both the “stand your ground” bill and the “no permit” bill, said he hasn’t seen any evidence of danger to officers in states where similar legislation has been enacted.
As for getting “defense of dwelling” past Dayton, he said he hasn’t spoken with the governor about it yet, but has put in a request.
“I would hope that members of the community of Minnesota would be willing to have a reasonable and rational conversation about this. … (Dayton has) made it clear he’s willing to talk with members of the Legislature, so I’m going to reiterate my desire to do that.”
A spokesman for Dayton said the governor hadn’t had a chance to review the bill, and thus declined to comment on whether his stance had changed.
The bills have yet to get hearings scheduled in the House; Cornish said members have to meet as a group to figure out which of the bills they’ll prioritize. But he sees a welcome environment.
“We really believe in the GOP caucus that nobody has ever lost a general election because of a gun issue, so we’re pretty bold in putting them out there,” Cornish said.
Responds Brock of Moms Demand Action: “We were surprised they were introduced so early in the session, which to us says they were a priority. What we see when we’re talking to people, is they would not support that.”
On the Senate side, Warren Limmer - who chairs the judiciary committee, through which the bills would likely need to pass - said he’s yet to detect any movement to meet House efforts on anything but the “defense of dwelling” bill.
“I’ve been trying to ascertain if there’s real desire to do those in the Senate yet,” Limmer said.
Even with the defense of dwelling bill, Limmer believes “we would more than likely see the same result from the governor. … I guess I have to wonder, if that’s the case, then why would we do it, just from a time-use standard?
“I really didn’t think this year was going to be a year of controversial gun bills,” he added. “It seems like the House is really fixated on that. We’ve got budgets, health care spending, trying to turn the state into an economic engine. I didn’t think we would be focusing on these first before getting to other real priorities.”