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Some officials worry that concealed carry legislation will lead to guns in school
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Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
The Minnesota House is expected to debate a bill later this week that would allow almost any Minnesotan over the age of 21 without a criminal background to carry a handgun. Officials at schools around the state say they're concerned the bill would allow more guns at or near schools and colleges. They say if lawmakers pass the bill they should make it clear that even people with handgun permits should keep guns away from schools.

St. Paul, Minn. — Officials representing schools, colleges and universities say they'll step up their lobbying efforts in hopes of defeating or changing the so-called "concealed carry" legislation.

Roger Aronson, who represents the state's elementary and secondary school principals and the Minnesota State High School League, says he's worried the bill would allow more guns onto school property.

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Image Principal Paul McMahan

"There's a tremendous uneasiness about this," he says. "We have friction points. Principals deal with people who are upset on a daily basis and we don't want to see people coming back to school with guns. These guns have a place and that place isn't schools."

Aronson says the bill would forbid permit holders from bringing guns into school buildings, but would allow them to store their weapons in the trunks of their cars. If the bill becomes law as written, he and others say it would make many educators nervous. Students at Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis bustle through the hallway on their last day of school before Easter break. Principal Paul McMahan says the faculty and staff work hard to make sure their school is safe.

He says the bill sends the message to students that carrying a weapon will make the state safer. He says he'll seriously consider tightening security and restricting the school's open campus policy if the bill becomes law.

"We're going to take a look at the notion of what do we do with adults who come into the building. Do we need to have some kind of metal detector to take precautions. I think we're going to have to at a time when we're reducing budgets look at how we're going to spend more money to make sure that kids are safe," says McMahan.

While there may be more guns, it would be illegal to bring them into school. And I'm not sure how someone would conclude from all of that that that's a bigger danger than current law.
- Gov. Tim Pawlenty

"I don't see any kind of threat to public safety for those schools," counters Rep. Linda Boudreau, R-Faribault, the author of the bill in the Minnesota House. She says she's worked with a number of stakeholder groups, including education officials, to accomodate their concerns. She says she isn't willing to make any more changes to the bill.

Boudreau says the bill ensures that only law abiding citizens will be able to get a handgun permit. "These are people 21 and older who have been screened. There's a lookback period that's unlimited as to the danger to themselves or others if they should obtain a permit. I just don't see an issue. I think the schools are sending out some very inaccurate information."

Boudreau and others say the bill would actually make schools safer.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he supports the bill and would sign it if it reaches his desk. He says it would strengten existing rules.

"The current law, as I understand it, is you can get a concealed weapon and bring it on school grounds. I don't like that I think that's a bad idea by the way. The current law would prohibit guns from being brought onto schools. So while there may be more guns it would be illegal to bring them into school. And I'm not sure how someone would conclude from all of that that that's a bigger danger than current law," Pawlenty says.

But opponents say the bill weakens current law. They say current law allows local school districts to forbid guns on school property. Boudreau's bill would take that power away from school districts. That also worries officials at colleges and universities.

Joanne Roche, who teaches English at the Mesabi Range Community and Technical College in Virginia, says Boudreau's bill allows permit holders to carry guns on college campuses. She says teachers will lobby against the bill until Minnesota's colleges and universities have the right to regulate or forbid guns from being carried on campus.

"I'm fearful," Roche says. "I would be fearful in a classroom. It's becoming difficult enough to teach. There's enough things that you have to be worried about these days."

Supporters of the bill say school officials fears are overblown. They say a number of states have similar laws and haven't had any problems. Critics of the bill counter by saying other states like Texas have much more specific language in their concealed carry laws that ban guns from schools, school buses, and school athletic events.

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