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Illustration: This artwork by M Ryder relates to the proliferation of guns in the U.S. and their impact on citizen safety.

M. Ryder, Tribune Media Services

Guns at the Minnesota Capitol? Here's a compromise.

  • Article by: Joshua Gruber
  • September 9, 2013 - 4:50 AM

The Advisory Committee on Capitol Area Security held an open meeting recently to hear views on whether holders of a permit to carry should be allowed to bring their gun to the Capitol.

I testified at those hearings and spoke in favor of banning guns, as well as screening by metal detector, to ensure that the only guns in the Capitol will be in the hands of State Patrol officers.

Some of the gun owners who spoke in favor of the status quo (now, any gun owner with a permit to carry need only notify the Public Safety Commissioner that they intend to carry their gun into the Capitol) argued that they need a gun for protection. The logic is that guns are needed for protection even though the odds of an incident are so small as to be infinitesimal.

This small potential for violence is the same argument invoked by gun advocates to insist that no changes are needed. Still, it could happen and gun owners don’t want to be caught unprepared.

The same logic can be used to argue for a metal detector and screening. After all, anything is possible, if not likely. If illegal guns can’t get into the Capitol, no matter how minuscule the potential for that, wouldn’t we all be better off?

Ten years ago, no one at the Government Center thought anything would happen there. But the impossible was more than possible. A court appointed conservator was shot and killed, her attorney wounded.

As a court-appointed guardian and conservator, I appreciate the “inconvenience” of a security check, including a metal detector, when I go to probate court hearings. Being shot is far more inconvenient than passing through a metal detector. And I don’t need to wonder whether someone may be carrying a concealed weapon to a hearing that could be volatile.

There is no “chilling effect,” even though the governor says that could happen if more security measures were introduced at the Capitol. If anything, knowing that you can go about your business without the risk of a concealed weapon being misused has a soothing effect.

Do we need to wait for a shooting to occur at the Capitol before more security measures are taken? As the governor himself noted, “one incident would tip the scales enormously.” Better to do something now than regret not having acted soon enough.

Fundamentally, the debate is not about, nor should it be about, gun owners’ constitutional rights. At venues like the airport, that matter is settled.

Public safety is the paramount issue and any gun owner who tries to go through security with a gun will find out there are limitations on so-called “rights.” Rights enshrined in the Constitution have boundaries and parameters. That includes the right of free speech and the right to vote.

The issue is Capitol security. If guns are banned, except for those whose work requires them to have one, along with the installation of metal detectors, our collective security would be enhanced.

Nonetheless, just as gun advocates maintain, I don’t think the presence of a gun in the possession of a permit holder is a major cause of concern, although permit holders have been known to abuse that privilege and kill other people.

A modest compromise is that anyone who wants to enter the Capitol area would have to pass though an obligatory screening and metal detector. Staff and legislators have their own line to go through, but without a screening.

Permit holders could go through this line, identify themselves to security personnel and show their permit. That way, permit holders get what they want and the rest of us don’t need to be concerned that a gun in the hands of some angry, deranged person will be floating around.

I know the most ardent advocates of guns, people like state Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, think that compromise is a dirty word and a slippery slope toward the government shredding constitutional rights.

But gun lobbyists do not, and should not, have a monopoly on defining security needs at the Capitol, especially when their agenda seems to emphasize their alleged rights rather than public safety.

So, for something novel, let’s try a little compromising when it comes to guns.

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Joshua Gruber lives in St. Louis Park.

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