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St. Paul, Minn. — About 200 supporters of the handgun permit law celebrated the first anniversary of the passage of the bill with birthday cake, hugs and the Happy Birthday song.
The law requires local sheriffs to issue a permit to any law abiding citizen who is 21 or older. Sheriffs can forbid permits to convicted felons, people with mental health problems or those who are considered a danger to themselves or others. Supporters say the law is a great improvement over the patchwork of issuing standards it replaced.
Rep. Lynda Boudreau, R-Faribault, was the chief House author of the bill. She says critics' predictions of violent crime by permit holders haven't come to pass. She says there have been very few problems with the law.
"It is conclusive that the positive value of firearms and their use far outweighs the negative misuse," Boudreau says. "The right to self defense is non-refutable, and should not be denied to honest upright citizens."
Many in the crowd held up American flags and wore National Rifle Association hats and patches. Minneapolis resident Robert Johnson says he completed handgun training as required by the law, and intends to submit his application next week. Johnson says he needs to carry a handgun because he believes he lives in a dangerous section of Minneapolis.
"I feel safer because of this law. And just like that bumper sticker says, criminals don't want to be around anybody who has got a gun, legally," says Johnson. "They want to have the monopoly on the guns for themselves. They don't want ordinary, law-abiding citizens to have one. It scares them."
Some permit holders say they rarely carry their weapons, but felt they had the right to carry under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. About 75 handgun control advocates held a rally on the Capitol lawn protesting the one year anniversary of the law. Rebecca Thoman with the handgun control organization Citizens for a Safer Minnesota says she has problems with the law. She says it's difficult to track whether any permit holders have committed crimes, because the applicants are anonymous. Thoman also says she's concerned that an increase in gun purchases could mean a greater chance for injuries.
"We're not worried about criminals shooting us, as we are about the availability of guns out there -- which leads to suicides, people shooting themselves, members of their familiy. In Minnesota, most gun homicide is between people who know each other," says Thoman.
Thoman says she intends to encourage handgun control advocates to get involved in the campaigns of legislative candidates who would change the law. Others are looking to the courts to repeal the law altogether. Minneapolis attorney David Lillehaug has filed several lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the law. His recent motion challenges the intent of the Legislature. He says the Minnesota House improperly attached the bill onto another bill, which violates the Minnesota Constitution.
"Today's the one year anniversary of the law. We think that's been one year too long for the law to be in effect," Lillehaug says. "On June 3 we will ask the Ramsey District Court to have the law thrown out."
Several local sheriffs say the law has meant more paperwork and background checks for their staff. Washington County Sheriff Jim Frank says he's issued 812 handgun permits in the past year, and has denied six applicants. He says he has mixed feelings on the effects of the law.
"People said all sorts of bad things were going to happen, and it doesn't look like that's happened," Frank says. "But on the other hand, people said we need to be armed so we can protect ourselves from all of this crime and violence that happens. And to my knowledge at least, no one carrying a handgun has been forced into protecting themselves."
Frank says he would prefer to have some more discretion on deciding who should receive a permit, as he did under the old law. He says he signs every permit along with a Latin phrase which means "under protest."