The safety of the State Capitol’s staffers and visitors weighed against the freedom of the state’s nearly 160,000 gun permit holders Tuesday in a vigorous debate that effectively killed a proposal to extend a weapons ban on the Capitol grounds.
A six-member panel charged with providing recommendations on Capitol security to lawmakers, led by Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, deadlocked 2-2 on the proposal that would have included permit holders in the Capitol’s firearms ban. Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, a panel member, excused herself from voting in case the issue comes before the high court. Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, was out of state. The panel was made up of two Republicans and two DFLers, as well as Prettner Solon and Gildea.
A proposal by Prettner Solon that would have limited the carrying of pistols within House and Senate chambers and committee hearings was rejected. Prettner Solon said that the ultimate vote will be up to the full Legislature, and another hearing is set for January. But, she said, Tuesday’s outcome provided “a sense of where the committee is going.”
During Tuesday’s debate, both sides accused the other of playing politics with constitutional rights.
“This committee has said we want to keep the Capitol complex open and accessible and hope nothing happens, but to me hope is not a very good basis to build public safety,” said Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, who drafted the recommendation. “I’ve heard members of this committee say we haven’t had an incident yet and I would add that ‘yet’ is not a very good safety response.”
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said an extension of the ban was unnecessary.
“I don’t think this is a Republican vs. Democrat issue,” Ingebrigtsen said. “But it’s definitely a Second Amendment issue and a very strong emotional issue … I certainly understand the thought process of senators and representatives in the metro area, because when guns get brought up in a lot of cases it’s gangs and shootings but to hinder the folks that are doing what’s right to get the permit allowing them protection wherever they go in the state of Minnesota is not the right way to go.”
Permit holders excluded
Minnesota law bans dangerous weapons, including firearms, from the Capitol area. Exceptions are made for permit holders who provide advance notice to the commissioner of Public Safety.
According to the Department of Public Safety, 159,691 valid weapons permits have been issued in Minnesota, with 867 of them notifying the commissioner of their intent to carry in the Capitol.
The panel passed a recommendation Tuesday that gun permit holders include their name, birthday and contact information when they provide notification that they’ll carry a gun into the Capitol.
Other recommendations that passed included increasing the number of state troopers assigned to the Capitol complex from eight to 12 and number of non-sworn security officers from 40 to 67.
‘Caught off guard’
Paymar’s recommendation would have extended the weapons ban to permit holders in the Capitol, State Office Building and Judicial Center, and included additional security measures such as metal detectors at each door.
Permit holders would still be allowed to carry their weapons in the complex’s 14 other buildings.
Five screening checkpoints would cost an estimated $300,000, with an annual cost of $240,000 to staff three employees per entrance — two unarmed security personnel and one armed Minnesota state trooper.
Without a majority, the recommendation failed to pass. In January, a formal recommendation will be drafted, influenced by Tuesday’s vote, but Prettner Solon said another vote could take place at that time.
An ardent supporter of the Capitol gun ban, Prettner Solon has differed at times from the view of Gov. Mark Dayton, who this summer questioned the need to limit guns at the Capitol.
He said that stringent security measures could chill public participation and that he didn’t consider law-abiding gun owners the problem.
“I think our governor was caught off guard and was speaking without significant thought on that point,” Prettner Solon said.
She acknowledged Dayton’s support for conceal-and-carry laws and his concern about the cost of metal detectors, but said he also cares about public safety and is open to discussion.
Civil libertarians to fight
Civil libertarians such as Oliver Steinberg are prepared to keep defending their rights.
“When you infringe upon civil liberties such as the right to freely assemble or communicate without intimidation and humiliation, or being subjected to these airport-style checkpoints, you’re nearing a chilling effect that reaches below freezing,” said Steinberg, of St. Paul.
Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, an organization geared toward ending gun violence and an advocate for the ban, said the intimidation happens when a loaded firearm is worn openly, as it was earlier this year during a hearing.
“There is no history of someone like that being a meaningful deterrent or being able to stop an attack,” she said.