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House passes handgun permit bill, sends to governor
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James Snyder says he and others who work in the hospitality industry have concerns about the handgun permitting bill. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
The Minnesota House on Wednesday passed a bill that would reinstate a 2003 law that streamlined the process for issuing handgun permits. The Senate has already passed similar legislation. Critics say state lawmakers rushed to pass the bill at a time when police have charged a permit holder with killing a bouncer at a Minneapolis nightclub.

St. Paul, Minn. — The legislation would require county sheriffs and police chiefs to issue a handgun permit to any law-abiding Minnesotan over the age of 21. Applicants would need to receive proper training and have no history of mental health problems. It's nearly identical to the bill that became law two years ago.

Gov. Pawlenty says he intends to sign the bill once it reaches his desk. He says the 25,000 people who have applied for and received a handgun permit have caused few problems since the first law passed in 2003. He says the light-rail line between Bloomington and Minneapolis has caused more injuries and deaths than the handgun permitting bill.

"If you look at the statistical evidence from the other states, including in Minnesota since we had it, it hasn't caused any aberational problems. The Legislature is going to repass it. I'm going to resign it and we'll get on with it," Pawlenty said on MPR's Midday broadcast on Wednesday.

But others say one death caused by a permit holder is one too many.

Critics of the legislation held a news conference with a northeast Minneapolis bartender to discuss their concerns about the bill. James Snyder works at the Times Bar and Cafe. His friend, Billy Walsh, was shot and killed while working as a bouncer at Nye's Pollainaise Room last week.

Police have charged Zachary Ourada in the incident. He's believed to be the first permit holder charged with murder since the 2003 law took effect. Snyder says he and others who work in the hospitality industry have concerns about the bill.

"Everyone else in that neighborhood was just taken aback by what happened. And the idea that there could be even one more incident like this is alarming," he said.

It's unfair to blame a gun permit for Walsh's shooting, said Joe Olson, president of Concealed Carry Reform Now, the group that fought hardest for passage of the 2003 gun law.

More people have been injured by light rail than the conceal-carry bill.
- Gov. Tim Pawlenty

"The guy decided to be a murderer. His permit had nothing to do with it," Olson said. "My heart goes out to the family of Mr. Walsh."

Supporters of the handgun legislation say a person without a gun permit could have taken the same action. They also argue that the bill forbids permit holders to have a blood alcohol level higher than .04, less than half the legal limit for driving.

But several House members wanted to forbid permit holders from carrying a gun in a bar. Rep. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, says other gun-friendly states don't allow guns in bars. He says the shooting in northeast Minneapolis prompted him to propose the amendment.

"It's the perfect example of why people who go to bars, mostly for the purpose of consuming alcohol, should not be carrying firearms while they are doing so," Latz said.

But the House defeated that and every other proposal to add restrictions to the bill House leaders wanted to retain the same language that passed the senate which allows the bill to go directly to the governor's desk without any additional negotiations. In the end, the House overwhelmingly passed the bill on a 86-to-47 vote.

Many members echoed the sentiments of Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, who said a "yes" vote is consistent with the constitutional right to bear arms.

"I'm not going to make the argument that this makes us safer," he said. "I'm not sure that it does. But what I do think is that this liberty is one we have to fight for. Our forefathers fought for it and now it's our time to fight for it."

Both the House and Senate acted rapidly on the bill after the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that said the 2003 gun law was unconstitutional. The courts didn't rule on the merits of the initial law but say the process used to pass it was unconstitutional.

But others say the bill, if it becomes law, is likely to end up in the courts again. Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis, says churches and other religious institutions aren't happy that the legislation doesn't ban guns outright in houses of worship. Ellison says he believes it's a violation of the separation of church and state.

"This law is going to fall in our courts. It absolutely is going to do that. I'm going to clap on that day because at least one branch of government can say 'Cease fire, disarm and let's have a peaceful society,'" he said.

The bill would require entitities to post a sign or personally notify permit holders that guns aren't welcome. That's enough for Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder. He says state lawmakers should operate independently of the courts.

"If we start making our laws in the House of Representatives or in the Senate based on what some judge has ruled, we would be greatly in error. We need to do the best job we can, pass the legislation and if that comes up, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," he said.

The House vote comes one day after all House members received an e-mail threatening them if they don't vote in favor of the legislation. Capitol Security and the FBI are investigating the threat but believed it to be a hoax.

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