Body armor and the threat of gun violence to urban children were hot topics in the Legislature's continuing discussion of gun violence on Thursday.
A bill proposed by Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, would limit civilian ownership of bulletproof vests and other items of body armor to those obtaining permits from their chief of police. Simonson said he is concerned that people who perpetrate mass shootings and other criminal acts are wearing body armor.
He said making it harder to obtain these items could prevent such a tragedy.
"We must consider the value of prevention," he said.
A supporter of the idea, Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St.Paul Park, who is a police officer, said finding such equipment in a home or car "sends a shiver up and down your spine."
But opponents, including the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, who have been filling committee rooms with sympathetic members this week, said the armor is used for defensive reasons only and should not be prohibited for civilian use.
Andrew Rothman, vice president of the civil rights alliance, denied Simonson's claims that shooters in Auroa, Colo., and Newtown, Connecticut, were wearing body armor. He said he was "appalled" by the idea that police and military could wear the vests but citizens could not.
Joe Olson, president of the civil rights alliance, said he keeps his vest and handgun by his bedside, and puts on the vest and picks up the weapon "when things go bang in the night. I put the vest on, pick up the gun, and go investigate," he said.
The bill was discussed but not voted on by the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, which winds up three days of public hearings Thursday evening.
Don Samuels, a Minneapolis City Council member who is also a candidate for mayor, appeared before the committee with about 30 students from the Best Academy school in Minneapolis. He said the school had shown great success in helping African American students achieve, but he worries about their safety in a part of the city that has gun violence.
Most of the children appeared to raise their hands when Samuels asked them if they knew someone who had been shot. Samuels told the legislators the children are "the most endangered human beings in any First World Country in the world." He said they must be hyper-vigilant to avoid threats.
"This is real," Samuels said.
Samuels said he wants the children to learn, "Don't stand your ground ... walk away, follow Martin Luther King Jr., turn the other cheek." He said the committee should balance the right to bear arms on the threats to children in neighborhoods where gun violence is a reality.
An second bill, aimed at closing some loopholes that prevent prosecutors from prosecuting gun crimes, met with a warmer reception from both sides in the debate. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the bill would only affect those who are disqualified from owning and carrying weapons -- felons, juveniles and people who have been declared mentally incompetent.