House OKs deadly force for gun owners

  • Article by: JENNIFER BROOKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 29, 2012 - 9:23 PM

Bill to expand "castle doctrine" now up to the governor, who has noted law enforcement objections.

A bill that would expand Minnesotans' right to use lethal force whenever and wherever they feel threatened cleared the Legislature on Wednesday and was sent to the governor for his signature or veto.

The bill, which the House approved 85-47, would give gun owners the right to shoot to kill when they feel threatened, not just in their own homes, but out in the community as well. Minnesota law already allows residents to use deadly force in their homes, but the bill extends that right to their cars, boats, campgrounds or any other place they might feel threatened.

Opponents said that the legislation, an expansion of the "castle doctrine" that allows homeowners to defend their turf, would open the door to trigger-happy gun owners to shoot a kid climbing over the fence to retrieve a ball or an angry neighbor winding up to deliver a punch.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said the bill protects Minnesotans from prosecution when they act in self-defense.

The bill's fate now rests with Gov. Mark Dayton. He has signaled that the recent shooting death of an on-duty Lake City police officer as well as the objections of law enforcement groups to the bill will weigh on his decision.

Unlike last week's Senate session on the bill, which dragged on for hours of angry debate before the measure was passed 40-23, the House bill drew only a few comments from the floor, mostly from opponents.

"Some people will needlessly die," said Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul. He called the bill "wrong" and "reckless," particularly a provision that allows out-of-state holders of concealed-carry permits to carry guns in Minnesota. "People will become emboldened, and the tragedies in other states will become the tragedies here," he said.

Cornish said that most of the worst-case scenarios that opponents mentioned -- out-of-state criminals with concealed-carry permits, children hit by bullets in their Minneapolis and St. Paul homes -- have nothing to do with the principles in his bill.

Opponents questioned why the bill was necessary when it is already legal to use lethal force when attacked. They said there is no case on the books of anyone being prosecuted for firing their weapon in self-defense.

Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, blasted critics for "thinking they know more about what's good for Minnesota than the people of Minnesota themselves. Instead of making a logical, reasoned argument, they create a big, fake boogeyman."

The "castle doctrine" vote was followed by a landslide vote, 116-15, in favor of a bill that would allow the state's prosecutors to come to work armed. That bill, also sponsored by Cornish, was prompted by the December courthouse shooting of Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell by a defendant he had just prosecuted.

Currently, prosecutors are not allowed to carry weapons during working hours, even if they have a concealed-carry permit. The proposed law would not allow prosecutors to bring guns into the courtroom, but it would allow them to have guns in their cars, their offices -- if courthouse rules permit -- and during other times when they are technically on the clock. Defense attorneys, judges and other legal professionals already have the right to exercise their concealed-carry rights -- courthouse rules permitting -- but the law excluded prosecutors.

Unlike the "castle doctrine" bill, the proposal to arm prosecutors has the support of the legal community, which helped to draft the legislation.

Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049

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