A firearms bill that would greatly expand Minnesotans' right to use deadly force without facing prosecution is on its way to the floor of the House.

By a voice vote, the chamber's Judiciary Committee approved the bill, the first showdown of the legislative session over gun rights, Wednesday morning.

The committee hearing was a low-key rerun of a separate one held last week that was jammed with supporters of the bill, who call it the "Stand Your Ground" measure, and opponents, who call it the "Shoot First" bill.

Gun control advocates and organizations representing the state's police chiefs, sheriffs and officers reiterated their opposition to the bill, which, they say, could endanger their members. "To us, this is a huge officer safety issue," said Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.

But Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, the bill's sponsor, repeated his contention that "we like to call it the self-defense bill -- it attempts to give more latitude to the homeowner."

Brushing aside opponents' contention that the change in the law would lead to an increasing number of dead trespassers, Cornish said it "doesn't allow you to shoot someone toilet-papering your tree."

The bill would expand what is known as the Castle Doctrine and has long been close to the top of the wish list for gun rights supporters, who say they should have no obligation to flee an attacker. Although DFL majorities have been able to block it in recent years, it's expected to face few obstacles in this session's Republican-dominated Legislature.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who noted that he's a gun owner, said Wednesday he has strong concerns about the bill, saying he believes it could put law enforcement officers at risk. 

House Democrats tried unsuccessfully Wedneday to derail it by sending it to another House committee.






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