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St. Paul, Minn. — Supporters of the so-called "conceal and carry" bill say it would create a firm set of rules that all police chiefs and sheriffs would have to follow. Current law allows them to deny a permit for any reason.
Terry Doyle says he was denied a permit because he didn't show proficient training with a firearm. The retired Savage police officer says he should have been the perfect candidate to receive a permit to carry a handgun. He says it's unfair that some county sheriffs deny permits while others approve them.
"It shows that the current system is broken when retired police officers are refused the permits and admittedly good upstanding citizens who should be provided permits are in other areas are approved with no problem," Doyle said.
Rep. Lynda Boudreau, R-Faribault, says her bill would change Minnesota from a "may issue" state to a "shall issue" state. Her bill would require local law enforcement to issue a permit unless other state laws forbid the citizen from carrying a firearm. It would also require applicants to receive appropriate training.
Boudreau says the state would be safer because citizens would be able to defend themselves. "We've had this problem for many years, it's about time we have the guts to remedy it," she said. "And I think it takes courage and I think it takes a careful drafting of a bill that I think we've drafted very carefully."
Opponents say the bill would make the state more dangerous because virtually anyone would be able to receive a permit. Bill Gillespie, with the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, says Boudreau's bill would let permit holders carry guns into the Metrodome, stores and other public places. It would also allow people to carry a gun into a school if they were dropping off their child. There are fines for others who carry a gun in a school.
Gillespie says sheriffs and police chiefs currently spend thousands of dollars doing backgound checks on permit applicants. The proposed bill would require local law enforcement to process an application in 15 days. Applicants would pay forty dollars to cover the cost of processing. Gillespie says applicants would automatically have their permit approved if officials don't deny it in the 15-day period.
"Every year there are millions of contacts between citizens and police officers. It only takes an instant, I can tell you from 25 years as a police officer, that it only takes an instant for those things to go to pieces and for that situations to be heightened by a handgun lawfully issued by the state of Minnesota is an awesome responsibility," Gillespie said.
Rep. Tom Pugh, DFL-So. St. Paul, opposes the legislation. He said the bill would create one of the loosest handgun laws in the nation. He says he'd like to see Boudreau work with law enforcement to reach some sort of middle ground on the issue.
The bill now moves onto the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee.
Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he wants this bill and several other bills on hot button social issues to reach the House floor by Feb. 27. In addition to the conceal and carry legislation, Sviggum wants to consider a 24-hour waiting period for women who choose to receive an abortion and legislation that repeals the Profile of Learning.
Sviggum says he wants to complete these issues before they become entangled in budget negotiations: "The House should be saying 'hey, you're doing it the way it ought to be done.' Bills standing on their own, not being attached to other bills or the omnibus bill. This is the time to do it."
All of those bills passed the House in previous years but were defeated in the DFL-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger, DFL-Mankato, says he wants to take a more cautious approach.
"We will have the same hearings the speaker is talking about, we'll look at the same bills the speaker is talking about but we're not going to rush it through," Hottinger said. "We're going to do it by allowing the public to have some time to look at the proposals and time to comment on them."
Supporters of the concealed carry legislation and 24-hour waiting period say this may be their best chance to pass the bill into law. They say they have the votes in the Senate and Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said on the campaign trail that he supports the proposals.