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Powerful pair teams up against handgun law
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Former Gov. Arne Carlson, who opposed the gun permit legislation as governor, says the law is bad public policy. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Opponents of a law that allows almost any Minnesotan over the age of 21 to get a handgun permit say they've collected 28,000 signatures to urge lawmakers to repeal the law. Last year, the Legislature passed the law requiring county sheriffs to issue permits to carry a handgun to applicants who take a training course and pass a background check. A report by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety says more than 15,000 people applied for permits between May and the end of 2003. Supporters of the law say the law isn't a problem.

St. Paul, Minn. — A coalition of groups, led by former Gov. Arne Carlson, a Republican, and former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Democrat, is leading an effort to repeal the new law. Carlson, who opposed the legislation as governor, says the law is bad public policy. Standing behind a sign that read Repeal Conceal, he said the law doesn't make the state any safer and has heightened public anxiety.

"In the case of conceal and carry the test should be that this new law would favorably improve public safety. That should be the expectation. Otherwise why change? Are we a safer society today?" Carlson asked.

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Image No difference in November

Before the law passed last year, police chiefs and sheriffs had wide discretion over which applicants got permits and which didn't.

Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, is proposing legislation that would repeal the requirement that sheriffs issue permits. She says the public isn't happy with the law. Slawik and others say they hope the bill will get a hearing in both the House and Senate. If it doesn't get a hearing, Slawik says they intend to make it an issue in the upcoming election for Minnesota House seats.

"Democrats and Republicans these days rarely agree on anything. But they can easily agree that adding more handguns on our streets, in our neighborhoods and at our businesses will not make us safer," she said.

The law, however, received support from a bipartisan group of legislators when it passed last year.

The number of issued permits so far is lower than projections. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety reported this week that more than 15,000 handgun permits were issued in the last seven months of last year.

During last year's debate the department estimated that as many as 50,000 permits would be issued in the first year. Under the old law, a little over 11,000 Minnesotans had been licensed to carry as of the end of 2002.

The Public Safety Department also says 139 applications were denied and 20 permits were revoked or suspended.

Rep. Lynda Boudreau, R-Faribault, the House author of the handgun law, doesn't believe the ongoing debate over the law will make a difference in the upcoming election.

"I see the opponents here attempting to make it a political issue. I don't see it as one because the citizens have weighed in through the people they have elected," Boudreau said.

Boudreau says the current law is actually more restrictive than the old one since permits cannot be issued to convicted felons, those who are considered a danger to themselves or others or people with mental health problems. She also says it also creates uniformity across the state.

"This was the 25th state to pass this law. None of those states have repealed their laws and I think we're up to 37 now. it's not something unusual or something drastic or dramatic. It's just about people's rights and their ability to defend themselves," she said. A spokesperson for Gov. Pawlenty says the governor doesn't support repealing the law. She said Pawlenty might be open to changing a provision in the law that requires business owners to both post a sign and personally notify anyone that enters their establishment that they don't want guns on the property. Pawlenty said the law should allow one or the other.

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