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Gun law change hits a snag
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"The governor was so eager to sign this bill that obviously his people didn't look at the implications of it," says DFL Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Some changes may already be in store for the so-called concealed carry gun law that goes into effect Wednesday. Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he'd like to make a change to the law in the final days of the special legislative session. Both Sviggum and Gov. Pawlenty say they'd like to make what they consider a technical correction to the bill. But opponents say the two leaders are backtracking because critics are calling the bill onerous.

St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Pawlenty and other supporters of the so-called concealed carry bill say they don't think the bill needs to be repealed entirely. But they admit there are some confusing points. Pawlenty says, for instance, the law requires business owners to post signs at every entrance and personally notify patrons that guns are not welcome. Pawlenty says the personal notification portion should be changed.

"If that's the correct interpretation of the bill -- that's burdensome, it's cumbersome. I don't think it's very workable. and so that provision would be an example of a problem," says Pawlenty.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum agrees. He says he'd like to make the change before lawmakers adjourn for the year. Sviggum called the issue a "correction." He says it should be added to the final revisors bill, which makes corrections to mistakes in legislation, and is usually the last item passed.

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Image Sen. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis

Sviggum says he's spoken with both the House and Senate authors of the bill. He says there was a mistake made when the bill was drafted.

"They said their intent, their personal intent of bringing up the bill, is not what the words of the law came out to be," Sviggum says.

The Legislature passed the bill in April and sent it to Gov. Pawlenty, who signed it into law within hours. It would require sheriffs to issue handgun permits to law-abiding Minnesotans over the age of 21.

Permit holders would need to undergo a background check and complete firearms training. Authorities can deny permits to felons, people who have mental health problems or those who are considered a danger to themselves or others.

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Image Signing the petition

Opponents say Sviggum and the Pawlenty administration knew what the effects of the law were when the bill was drafted.

"To say today that that was a mistake just seems dead wrong to me," says Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins.

Kelley opposed the bill when it was being debated in the Senate. He unsuccessfully urged the Senate to send the bill to conference committee so they could make changes to it. At the time, Kelley was one of several senators to question the specific provision on the Senate floor.

"When your bill says the requester or his agent personally informs the person of the posted request -- are you saying that personally doesn't mean personally? Because when I read 'personally,' I assumed that there had to be a person at the door saying, 'See that sign? We don't allow guns in here," Kelley said during floor debate.

Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, defended the provision for 10 minutes during that debate. Pariseau, the bill's author, said at the time that it wasn't her intent to require businesses to hire someone to personally notify everyone that guns aren't welcome.

But she also said she wanted to ensure that permit holders weren't criminally prosecuted because they missed the sign forbidding guns.

"The point of having someone say something is for the inadvertant situation, not for every person that walks through the door, 'Please, I hope you're not carrying guns because we don't allow them here,'" Pariseau said. "The point is the inadvertant and very occasional situation, where someone might be there and maybe got through from another source."

DFL Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger says he isn't sure if he'll agree to the changes in the revisor's bill. Hottinger says he thinks the issue is bigger than a technical correction, and should be fixed in a different bill.

"The governor should have waited more than 15 or 20 minutes before he signed the bill. He should have found out what was in it. He didn't do that. The authors have been pushing this language all along, so I think it's an abuse of process to use the revisor's bill," Hottinger said.

House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen says House leaders may consider drafting another bill to make the necessary corrections.

Meantime, four DFL lawmakers launched a petition drive to repeal the law, using a Minneapolis park playground as a backdrop. Sen. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, says the law's language is vague and puts a burden on businesses that want to keep guns out.

Referring to insulting phone calls his office received after he spoke out against the law, Skoglund says he's concerned about the intent of some potential permit holders.

"You're giving a bunch of people, who are very insecure and very angry, power that they've dreamt of having all of their life. Power to intimidate people with their guns. And it's a culture change. It's going to be a ruder Minnesota and scarier Minnesota," says Skoglund.

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