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Pawlenty signs conceal and carry hours after Senate approval
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Opponents of the concealed-carry provision staged a protest in the Capitol Monday, as the Senate took up the measure. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Gov. Pawlenty signed the concealed handgun measure into law Monday, just hours after the Senate passed it. The law requires county sheriffs to issue a handgun permit to almost any law abiding Minnesotan over the age of 21. The bill passed 37-30 after what several observers say was the longest Senate floor debate in recent memory. Supporters say current law is unfair because local law enforcement has too much discretion when it comes to issuing permits. Opponents say the law will make the state more dangerous. They also said the Minnesota House was dictating the Senate's agenda by forcing the Senate to vote up or down on the issue.

St. Paul, Minn. — The seven-and-a-half hour Senate debate was contentious and sometimes personal. It featured Kevlar vests and references to O.J. Simpson. Supporters and opponents lined the steps outside of the Senate chambers lobbying lawmakers, even though Senate leadership admitted the changes would likely pass.

Supporters of the measure say local law enforcement officials in certain areas are refusing permits to nearly everyone. Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, says the law needs to be changed to help people protect themselves.

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Image Concealed-carry supporter

"Things are changing in our society. It's not like it was in the 1950s, when you can take a bag of money from your hard work and go down to the local bank deposit window that night without any fear. Our world has changed and we must recognize that reality," Limmer said.

Applicants would have to undergo a background check and specific training every five years in order to get a permit. Permits would not be issued to anyone who's been convicted of a felony, has mental health problems or is a danger to themselves or others.

The law forbids carrying guns on school property but would allow permit holders to store their guns in their car trunks while visiting schools. Private business would be allowed to forbid guns if they post signs at every entranceway.

Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, says supporters have ensured that applicants will have a clean record.

"This is a very good bill," she said. "It would ensure that people who are entitled to a permit receive one. It also tightens up current law to make sure that we keep firearms out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them."

The NRA has got its claws around this Capitol building.
- Sen. Ellen Anderson

Others say the change will cause more violence. A state estimate says the law would put 90,000 more handguns on the street over the next three years. Several law enforcement agencies, education groups and religious groups are opposed to it. One lawmaker said the bill's loose restrictions would allow O.J. Simpson to get a handgun permit in Minnesota.

Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, says her district in South Minneapolis has been riddled with gun violence over the years. She says those who think the law will make the state safer are fooling themselves.

"Rest assured, more guns will not make us safer. None of you will be safer in my district if you bring a gun there, and certainly our children will not be safer," she said.

The Senate author predicts the measure will put more guns in Berglin's district and throughout the seven-county metro area. Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, says that's where local law enforcement either denies permits or discourages permit holders from applying.

"I think the biggest impact is very likely the metro, because those are the people who are denied most often, and since you are dealing with a higher crime rate than the farther reaches, it's reasonable to expect that," Pariseau said. The Senate was forced to either vote for the bill or send it to conference committee as a result of a parliamentary move by the Minnesota House. The House attached the provision onto bill that would make technical changes to the Department of Natural Resources.

House and Senate Republicans say the maneuver was necessary because Senate DFL leadership was forbidding the bill from a full vote. The Senate defeated a pared-down version of the bill last week.

Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, was one of seven DFL senators who wore a bulletproof vest on the floor to symbolize her nervousness over the bill. She says House Republicans and special interest groups like the National Rifle Association are dicating the Senate's agenda.

"They're preying on our elections and our democracy. The NRA has got its claws around this Capitol building," she said.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, used his time on the floor to urge Gov. Pawlenty to reconsider his pledge to sign the bill.

"I appeal to this governor of this state. Is this the legacy that you want?" Johnson asked. "Governor Pawlenty is a fine man. He is an upstanding man. We have differences of opinion about public policy. But is this the kind of issue that you want to be remembered for -- having put all of the guns onto the streets of Minnesota?"

Supporters of the bill say the 34 other states with similar laws haven't had major problems. Minnesota is the 35th, now that Gov. Pawlenty has signed the bill. The law goes into effect 30 days after his signature.

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