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Supporters, opponents spar over handgun bill
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The concealed carry legislation is sponsored by Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington. You can listen to her testimony by selecting the link in the "audio" box. (MPR photo)
The gun control debate at the state Capitol took several twists on Monday. Supporters of legislation to broaden the availability of firearm permits charged Senate DFL leaders with trying to sabotage their efforts by manipulating the committee process. But top Democrats say they're simply trying to encourage multiple viewpoints in order to refine the various proposals.

St. Paul, Minn. — Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, has been trying for six years to overhaul laws governing the issuance of handgun permits. This year marks just the second time she has managed to secure a committee hearing for her legislation.

But hours before her bill was to appear in the Senate Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee, a DFL-sponsored alternative was introduced and slotted for a hearing alongside her legislation. Pariseau says the alternative, withdrawn from the committee at the last moment, was a red herring meant to draw support away from her measure, which she says has broad, bipartisan support outside of the Twin Cities urban core.

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Image Mary Heller of Million Moms

"We have dealt with some of the Democrats over there who have been very good about trying to get the right bill out," she said. "And the leadership is not with them. Unfortunately, I think the metro Democrats are hanging their own people out to dry, the rural people are being hung out to dry. And that is truly said. So I'm kind of ticked about this."

Pariseau's bill would deny local law enforcement agencies the discretion they currently hold over who does or does not qualify for a permit to carry a handgun. Supporters say it provides a uniform, statewide standard, and excludes those with certain criminal convictions or evidence of mental instability. Opponents say the background checks are indadequate and the bill will only increase gun violence.

Committee Chair Leo Foley says he personally opposes a loosening of the permitting guidelines. And the Coon Rapids DFLer and former police officer says the various competing versions are simply meant to encourage debate.

"There are other versions of what should be in the law if it, in fact, passes. What we have is a variety of people that don't want any concealed-carry changes at all. And then there's some who would like some, but would like less liberal bills, if you will," Foley said.

Pariseau and others say the other versions are a distraction and intended to water down her provisions.

No matter what we give in to, they'll want one more thing, one more thing, one more amendment, one more prohibited location. And the saddest part is, none of this is going to have any effect on violent crime.
- John Caile, Concealed-Carry Reform Now

John Caile, who represents the interest group Concealed-Carry Reform Now, says Pariseau's bill, in its current form, is already the result of six years of negotiations seeking to address public safety concerns.

"But what we've seen is that the hardcore opposition to this is going to say 'no' to whatever we come up with. And no matter what we give in to, they'll want one more thing, one more thing, one more amendment, one more prohibited location. And the saddest part is, none of this is going to have any effect on violent crime," Caile said.

Caile points to the debate over guns in schools. He says the Pariseau bill would ban a permit-holder from carrying a weapon into a school building, and he says that's an improvement over current law, which makes no such provisions.

But school officials disagree. They say the law is at best ambiguous about whether permit-holders can bring weapons into buildings. And they say, regardless, the law gives school districts great discretion in setting their own standards beyond what the Legislature has enacted.

Roger Aronson, an attorney for the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals and the Minnesota Association for Elementary School Principals, says the new law may actually erode the ability of school officials to control firearms on their property or at off-site events.

"Schoolchildren and their parents are entitled to a gun-free environment when attending a public school. And attending a public school includes when they're in the school building, when they're in the parking lot, when they're in the bus, or when they're at a school activity," Aronson said.

The committee took no action on Pariseau's bill, and will likely consider DFL alternatives before taking final action. A House version of the Pariseau bill is moving smoothly in that body. And Gov. Tim Pawlenty has indicated he's willing to sign the legislation.

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