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Gun bill's fast track suddenly doesn't seem so fast
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"How can we trust a leader who doesn't have either the authority or guts to stand behind his promises?" Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, charged Thursday. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
A bill that would make it easier for Minnesotans to get a handgun permit has hit a stumbling block, just one day after House and Senate leaders predicted swift passage. Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he's now inclined to hold off a vote on the bill. Sviggum is accusing DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson of breaking a pledge to bypass the committee process and giving the revised handgun bill an up or down vote on the Senate floor.

St. Paul, Minn. — Earlier this week, nearly everyone in the state Capitol expected quick action to pass the so-called conceal and carry law. Supporters say they have the votes in both the House and Senate to pass the bill, and Gov. Pawlenty has been strong supporter.

But now House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he may not bring up the bill at all this session. He says he won't unless the Senate takes an up or down vote on the bill.

"We have to reconsider whether we want to spend four or five hours on the House floor with numerous amendments at this time of the session knowing that the Senate will basically kill the bill in committee by either watering it down or bringing out language that's unacceptable," he said.

This place falls over dead for them because they're the NRA and people are afraid of them.
- Sen. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis

Supporters of the bill have been pushing for quick passage since the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that said the state handgun law is unconstitutional. The court said lawmakers wrongly attached the gun language onto an unrelated bill two years ago. A key House committee approved a nearly identical bill this week and the measure was one step away from a full House vote.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson says he told Sviggum and others that the Senate would vote on the bill as soon as the House passed it. But he says things changed when he met with the Senate DFL caucus.

"I did the shake the speaker's hand and said 'this is how we'll handle this issue' and the caucus felt otherwise. And so the speaker said, 'you know, Dean, our caucuses go in different directions from time to time' and he should full well know that," Johnson said.

Johnson promised a committee hearing for next week and says the full Senate will vote on the bill before the end of the session.

The tit-for-tat highlights major differences in the Senate DFL caucus. Most rural Democrats support the bill while DFLers from the metropolitan area oppose it. It also shows the raw emotions surrounding the legislation.

The bill would require local law enforcement to issue a permit to any law-abiding person over the age of 21. Applicants would need proper training and have no history of mental health problems. The law prior to 2003 gave local sheriffs and police chiefs wide discretion over who should receive a handgun permit.

Sen. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, says the bill would increase gun violence. Skoglund would prefer to see the Senate defeat the bill, but knows he doesn't have the votes. He says amending it in committee is the next best option.

"The legislative process -- if it's followed -- works. It works well for people when it's abused like when this bill was originally passed. It doesn't work well for people if we don't follow the normal traditional process, we're going to get a junky law," according to Skoglund.

But other lawmakers say only one change should be made from the law that passed two years ago. They would like to give local businesses the option of either posting a "no guns sign" or personally notifying a permit holder that guns are not permitted in their establishment.

The 2003 law required owners to do both. John Caile, with the gun rights group, Conceal Carry Reform Now!, says lawmakers should pass the rest of the bill as written.

"Let's get it done. Let's get this very successful, now documented successful law back on the books where it belongs and move on to other things," he said.

Caile said politics is the other reason Senate DFLers should pass the bill. He says supporters of the 2nd Amendment are watching the debate closely and will vote accordingly when senators run for reelection next year.