When an intruder enters a home, state Rep. Tony Cornish wants gun owners to be able to respond with deadly force if needed, without fear of prosecution.

It's called the Castle Doctrine, and it has long been close to the top of the wish list for gun rights supporters, who say they should have no obligation to flee to escape an attacker.

On Thursday, a House public safety committee voted 10-7 to approve the bill, which is expected to face few obstacles in a GOP-dominated Legislature.

Cornish, the Good Thunder Republican who also chaired Thursday's committee, called the measure "a bill long overdue, a self-defense bill" that has been subjected to "a lot of derogatory names."

Two years ago, a similar bill failed in committee and DFL majorities have long been able to block its passage.

DFLers tried to muster some opposition on Thursday, but to little avail. DFL Rep. Joe Mullery, of Minneapolis, called the bill "kind of appalling." He recalled that he once checked into a hotel and entered a room he thought was his, only to find a couple sleeping there. "Under this bill, they can shoot me. ... I'm dead."

The hearing was packed with opponents and supporters -- some of whom openly sported handguns.

Advocates called the bill a prudent "Stand Your Ground" law and wore buttons that said "Self Defense is a Human Right." Opponents characterized the measure as a "Shoot First" doctrine and carried stickers to that effect.

Much of the bill's strongest opposition came from organizations representing the state's police chiefs, officers and sheriffs.

"We're talking about death here," said Assistant St. Paul Police Chief Ken Reed, who called it "a recipe for disaster."

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said the bill "in essence, allows a person to shoot first and ask questions later."

Dennis Flaherty, representing the officers' association, said his members routinely enter a person's home or property and could confront an armed owner. "It creates a scenario when you're going to have one of our officers hurt, or, God forbid, killed," he said.

Cornish, a police chief in Lake Crystal, and Mankato Police Chief Todd Miller scoffed at that notion.

Miller said it would increase the safety of "law-abiding citizens," adding that "we cannot be there all the time to protect them."

Dismissing the law enforcement groups' objections, Cornish noted that it also opposed the state's concealed-carry law several years ago. "They were united there and they were wrong -- they're united here and they're wrong," he said.

Bill supporter Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said that "as a father, a husband, I have a duty to protect my home. ... This bill sends a message to criminals: Don't break into a house, or you're going to get hurt."

Bob von Sternberg • 651-222-0973