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The Minnesota Personal Protection Act takes effect
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Jeremy from Champlin Park plans to immediately apply for a right-to-carry permit for his two handguns, even though he says it's unlikely he'll carry them much, if at all. (MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)
The Minnesota Personal Protection Act takes effect today. The law requires sheriffs to issue handgun permits to anyone who meets standardized criteria.

St. Paul, Minn. — It's usually referred to as Minnesota's concealed carry law. But a better description might be Minnesota's handgun right-to-carry law. Those awarded permits may conceal their weapon but they're not required to.

The law moves Minnesota from a "may issue" to a "shall issue" state. Law enforcement no longer has broad discretion over whether to grant permits. With some exceptions, the law requires sheriffs to approve all applications, provided those who request permits are at least 21 years old and have recently undergone handgun safety training.

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Image Steve Lecy

People with felony criminal convictions or known gang affiliation are not eligible for a permit. Additionally, people declared mentally ill or who are chemically dependent may not obtain permits.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension says nearly 12,000 Minnesotans had handgun permits last year. Estimates of how many more permits will be issued vary widely. Some predict as much as a ten-fold increase.

Whatever happens, sheriff's departments are bracing for an onslaught of applications, and gun safety trainers are swamped with students.

In the lower level of Bill's Gun Shop in Robbinsdale, concealed carry instructor Steven Lecy has taught two back-to-back six-hour sessions for weeks, covering everything from firearm safety, to details of Minnesota's Personal Protection Act, to the legal repercussions associated with shooting at someone.

Over the last month or so, Lecy estimates he and the three other instructors at Bill's Gun Shop have moved about 1,000 people through concealed-carry courses, each paying $215 for the training.

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Image Seeking protection

"The demand has gone through the roof. I used to teach this class every Saturday, and have five to 10 people in every Saturday, sometimes every other Saturday." Lecy said. "Now I'm teaching it four to five days a week."

On this day, 20 middle-aged white men comprise the class, but Lecy say he's taught numerous women and people of color.

One of the students, Jim, who doesn't want his last name used, said he doesn't anticipate carrying his .38 revolver very often. But he likes the idea that he can get a permit to carry whenever he wants.

"On occasion, probably walking the dog late at night in a dark place," Jim said. "I will not probably carry one in crowds of people."

Instructor Lecy says more than anything, he tries to convey to his students the huge responsibility entailed with carrying a weapon, and the unpredictable course of events the use of a gun can unleash.

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Image Concerned about the new law

"Our biggest thing in our class ... is that you know how to avoid a gun fight, period. To avoid that situation and what the ramifications are if you get in one," Lecy said.

Mike Pettis of Andover is pursuing a permit because he thinks he's less likely to be robbed on trips from his business to his bank if he's armed.

"I'm not going to be carrying it a lot." Pettis said. "I will have it in the car a lot, because like I say I do carry some amounts of cash, and that's about it."

Across town at Armored Fire Gun Shop and Range, a young man, Jeremy from Champlin Park, fires rounds from his .357 handgun. He's also owns a 9 mm. semi-automatic handgun. He also didn't want his last name used.

Jeremy says he's happy the Minnesota Personal Protection Act passed.

"As a matter of fact, as soon as I leave here I'm going to go to the police station and pick up an application for a permit," Jeremy said.

Although he's applying for a permit, Jeremy says it's unlikely he'll walk around armed. He says he doesn't know exactly why he's pursuing a permit.

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Image Gun shop owner Jeff Kempf

"No real reason, but I'd like to do it. Just because I have the permit doesn't mean that I will carry, but I'd like to have the ability to do so," he said.

In the next lane over, shooting his .22 caliber target pistol, Vern Harris says he would have been happy had Minnesota lawmakers not passed the Personal Protection Act.

"My greatest concern is that this will not somehow excite someone who should not have a firearm, and somehow convince them that it would be a great idea now," Harris said. "Not everyone should have a firearm, period, let alone in public."

Opponents of the legislation criticized the bill as a way to boost handgun sales. Armored Fire owner Jeff Kempf says he's expecting some increased pistol sales, but hardly a rush.

"A lot of the people who are getting the permits already have firearms. So the people that are opposed to this -- that's one thing they didn't understand -- is that most of the people already have firearms," said Kempf. "So there will be a few more -- some of the lighter guns, the smaller guns that are easier to carry -- but mostly in accessories, holsters and stuff like that."

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Image Minnesota Sheriffs Association Attorney Rick Hodsdon

By law, sheriffs are required to approve or deny right-to-carry permits within 30 days of receiving applications. Minnesota Sheriffs Association attorney Rick Hodsdon says completing required background checks will go well beyond simply typing names into a central crime tracking data base.

Hodsdon says the administrative costs for sheriff's departments will be much more than the portion of the $100 permit fee they're allowed to keep.

Hodsdon says sheriff's departments will likely have to cut back in other areas so they can meet the requirements of the new law.

"It may mean that people get their dog licenses slower, it may mean that some of the nuisance-type calls or some of the community-type efforts get a lower priority, as the sheriffs offices deal with these particular mandates," Hodsdon said.

In Washington County, Sheriff Jim Frank is predicting he'll handle as many as 10,000 permit applications. That's one concealed carry permit for every 20 men, women and children in his county. Frank says the new law is bad public policy which will strain his resources. He's convinced some Minnesotans who should not be allowed to carry handguns are going to end up getting permits.

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Image Washington County Sheriff Jim Frank

"I really wish that I didn't have the responsibility of signing any of these permits, because I've really taken a position to try to be as sure as I can when it comes to life and death matters," Frank said. "I really think that as hard as we try here in the sheriff's office -- and people try throughout the state -- some people that shouldn't have guns are going to slip through." Many businesses and other organizations are also troubled by the Personal Protection Act.

Faegre and Benson attorney David Goldstein has been working with many Minnesota companies to help them understand implications of the new law for their employees and customers. With violence now one of the leading causes of death in the workplace, Goldstein says the law change is forcing businesses to spend a lot of time and money coming up with gun policies.

"If you run a business you're going to be more concerned now if you have a dispute with a customer, because you don't know if what previously would have been a yelling match is going to escalate into something more," Goldstein said. "If you're an employer and you're terminating someone for a performance problem or as part of a reduction in force, you're going to wonder now, does the person have a gun out in the car?"

It also bans guns from county jails and courthouse complexes unless permit holders notify sheriff's deparments in advance that they intend to carry weapons in those places.

Guns are also prohibited from state Capitol area buildings without notifying the commissioner of public safety.

In implementing the Personal Protection Act, Minnesota becomes the 35th state in the nation with a right to carry law.

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