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Handgun legislation has better chance in new session
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Representatives of the gun control group Million Mom March gathered outside of the Senate chamber to urge the Senate to defeat a bill that would change the concealed carry law. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Supporters of a bill that would allow most Minnesota adults to carry concealed handguns believe they have enough votes in the House and Senate for the bill to become law this year. Gun rights advocates say current law isn't fair because law enforcement officials have the right to refuse a permit for no reason. In the meantime, gun control advocates say they'll continue to fight the legislation.

St. Paul, Minn. — In past legislative sessions, the Senate defeated changes to the handgun legislation while the House overwhelmingly passed the bill. Last session, opponents barely defeated the bill when it died on a tie vote in the senate. But a new legislature and a new governor are in town. And Gov. Pawlenty has indicated his support for the concealed carry measure.

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Image John Caile

Even with momentum moving against them, opponents of the concealed carry bill are planning a major fight. Rebecca Thoman with the handgun control group, Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, says relaxing the state's concealed carry law would lead to more violence.

"We're really talking about increasing our gun violence in the state. And we're changing our culture. We're saying it's acceptable to live in a state where you have to carry a handgun around to feel safe. Or you should turn to a handgun as a means to solve a dispute," Thoman said.

But Rep. Linda Boudreau, R-Faribault, says the state's current law is unfair. She says county sheriffs and police chiefs have the power to arbitrarily issue or deny a handgun permit to anyone.

Boudreau says any Minnesotan over the age of 21 should have the right to carry a handgun. Boudreau, who will author the bill in the House, says the bill will deny permits to convicted felons and those with a history of domestic abuse problems. Boudreau says it will also allow for background checks and requires increased training for those who receive a permit.

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Image Rep. Linda Boudreau

"We have heard loud and clear from voters with those who have been elected that it's an issue that's important to Minnesotans. And I have known that simply because of the letters and e-mails I've gotten, I haven't gotten that kind of response on any issue as I have on the Citizens Protection Act," she said.

John Caile, with the group Concealed Carry Reform Now, says he believes the bill will pass the Senate this session. He says his forces have four to seven more votes from newly elected lawmakers favoring concealed carry. Caile, who wears a red, white, and blue tie-tack pin in the shape of a handgun, says 34 states have similar legislation and haven't seen an increase in crime.

"Every state that passes legislation like this has the same sky-will-fall response from opponents. And at every point they're proved wrong. At some point you have to look at the record with the millions of permit holders that we have. The incredible record of good behavior that they have racked up over the years and say do we really expect that Minnesota citizens are somehow going to be any less responsible?" said Caile.

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Image Rebecca Thoman

Sen. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, says he'll continue to fight the legislation. He says current law is adequate. Skoglund says the bill is popular at the Capitol simply because the National Rifle Association supports the measure. But he says the general public doesn't want it.

"I'm going to do my best to make a convincing argument that it's not in the best interest of the people of this state. It's dangerous. People are going to get hurt. It makes our state one of these more bully type states. People are going to get permits to carry because other people have permits to carry and more guns does not equal more safety," Skoglund said.

The Minnesota Sheriffs Association and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association says they will oppose any changes to current law.

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