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Senate committee carves up handgun permit bill
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Sen. Pat Pariseau, the sponsor of the handgun permit bill, says the changes being proposed are too restrictive. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
A revised version of Minnesota's handgun permit law survived a key committee vote at the Capitol Monday. The Senate Crime Prevention Committee kept the bill alive by sending it to its next stop without recommendation. The committee also made significant changes to the bill, and supporters of the current law say some of the changes go too far.

St. Paul, Minn. — Two years ago, Minnesota lawmakers passed a bill making it easier to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun. They did so by attaching the "concealed carry" legislation to an unrelated House bill, and sending it over to the Senate.

Supporters didn't think they could get a floor vote otherwise, because the bill was likely to be killed in a committee dominated by opponents. But that process has been found unconstitutional by the courts, and supporters now want the Legislature to quickly pass a stand-alone version of the 2003 law.

Joseph Olson, president of the group Concealed Carry Reform Now, told senators on the Crime Prevention Committee that the law is working well in Minnesota.

"The number of permits revoked is .064 percent. That's six one-hundredths of a percent. Permit holders are the kind of people who stop at a stoplight at 4 a.m. and wait because it's red," says Olson.

The 2003 law allows most law-abiding adults to get a handgun permit if they receive proper training and have no history of mental health problems. Churches object to the law, because it requires them to post signs if they don't want guns in their buildings.

Pam Fickensher is pastor of Edina Community Lutheran Church, the first church to sue over the handgun law.

"There's no reason for the state to compel us to welcome guns onto our property, or to sanction the specific language we must use, which is not consistent with our religious beliefs," says Fickensher.

The committee responded to the churches' concerns by amending the bill to say that firearms are prohibited from religious buildings unless churches indicate otherwise.

Sen. Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, tried to go even further, proposing that concealed handguns be banned from all property, unless businesses post signs stating, "Guns Welcome."

"If this legislation is as popular as the proponents of it say it is, these 'Guns Welcome' signs will pop up everywhere," Skoglund says.

Skoglund's proposal was voted down. The committee did approve another Skoglund proposal making it a felony to possess a firearm on school property, including day care centers, universities and youth groups such as boys and girls' clubs.

Another change would require fingerprinting of all permit holders. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, says the changes go too far.

"They just decided that everybody is a criminal so we're going to save everybody from the criminals," says Pariseau. "When in fact, now the criminals are the only ones who are going to be able to carry their guns any darn place they please."

The Crime Prevention Committee sent Pariseau's bill to the Rules Committee without recommendation on a divided voice vote. Pariseau says she's relieved the bill is still alive, since it's never made it out of this committee before. She says she'll probably try to remove the committee changes once it gets to the floor.

The bill has already cleared one committee in the House, and is one step from the floor, where it has received overwhelming support in the past.

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