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Olmsted County reacts to concealed carry bill
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Olmsted County Sheriff Steve Borchardt says the Personal Protection Bill is too liberal and would force local law enforcement to issue handgun permits against their better judgement. (MPR Photo/Erin Galbally)
Minnesota's handgun laws could undergo significant change this year. If passed the Personal Protection Bill would streamline the process for obtaining a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Currently, permits are issued at the discretion of county law enforcement. The bills supporters say that's led to too many inconsistencies. Meanwhile anti-gun advocates warn passage of the legislation would lead to an increase in violence.

Rochester, Minn. — It's a Friday night in Rochester. Three women sit around watching a tape of a recent Oprah Winfrey show. The program features documentary filmmaker Michael Moore and his latest production "Bowling for Columbine."

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Image NRA member Sue Bierly

Moore is avowedly anti-gun. While Sue Bierly, Waneta Buck, and Nancy (who chose not give her last name), are all card-carrying members of the NRA. Bierly and Buck even teach handgun safety classes to students around the state.

Bierly calls guns her hobby.

"I'm a competitive shooter. I like to instruct and just be around people and talk about guns and firearms," explains Bierly.

None of the woman will say whether they have concealed carry permits. Currently about 150 people in Olmsted County have such permits. But if a bill supported by all three friends passes through the State Capital the number could soar.

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Image Shooting instructor Waneta Buck

According a legislative survey roughly 12,000 Minnesotans have been approved to carry a concealed weapon. Under the Personal Protection Bill the number is expected to grow to about 90,000. Those weapons could go almost anywhere, excluding certain public buildings and businesses with clearly posted signs.

Waneta Buck says the new legislation would give one clear formula for issuing permits. That's something she says is missing from current state law.

"It just seems so unfair," she says. "Some places you can get a permit and some places you can't, with exactly the same reasons."

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Image Chuck Handlon

Rochester high school chemistry teacher Chuck Handlon represents the other side of the issue. Handlon stands in front of a display board filled with quotes about non-violence. In the middle there's a large colorful comic strip designed by his 11-year-old son warning about the dangers of guns.

Handlon says he worried that more guns on the street will mean more people dying.

"The bottom line for me again is if I have a gun, I have to be prepared to use the gun and if use the gun I have to be prepared to kill someone and I don't want to be around who has that or put myself in that position," explains Handlon.

Handlon says one of his biggest problems with the Personal Protection legislation is how violators are punished.

"If a person carries a gun into our schools it would be just a misdemeanor equal to a speeding ticket. A $25 fine, so it makes it a minor issue," says Handlon.

Handlon's not alone in his skepticism.

Olmsted County Sheriff Steve Borchardt says he objects to any change to current law. Borchardt's the point person on the issue for the state Sheriff's Association. He says while he favors gun rights, the proposed legislation is too liberal. He says it takes too much authority away from local law enforcement. But Borchardt concedes the Personal Protection Bill will mostly likely become law.

"All I'm trying to do here in the tenth hour in the last minute of the 4th quarter and the balls on my five yard line and they're threatening to score, I'm just trying to engineer a little bit of moderation, a little common sense to keep the streets safer than giving the permit to any Tom, Dick or Harry that walks in the door regardless of their background," says Borchardt.

Back in their friend's Rochester living room gun enthusiasts Sue Bierly and Waneta Buck say criminals already have guns. According to them, the new legislation ensures law-abiding citizens also have the right to protect themselves.

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