Minnesota National Guard members and other active-duty military personnel should be able to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, a small group of Republican state lawmakers said Monday.
Citing a number of fatal shootings at domestic military sites in recent years, Sen. Paul Gazelka said military personnel should have more tools of self-protection at their disposal.
“Men and women in uniform simply being attacked because they represent America and stand for America, should have the right and the ability to defend themselves,” said Gazelka, R-Nisswa, whose district includes the National Guard’s Camp Ripley.
The proposal to exempt military from the state’s concealed weapons permit requirements comes amid renewed concerns about military base safety. Earlier this month, shootings at two military installations in Chattanooga, Tenn., left four U.S. Marines and a Navy sailor dead.
Some Republican governors in several states — including Wisconsin — have responded by allowing military personnel to carry personal weapons while on duty at National Guard bases.
Minnesota is among the states that do not allow personal weapons on military bases. Gov. Mark Dayton said last week he would defer to Minnesota National Guard leadership on whether to change that policy. “At this time, our force protection measures will not include arming soldiers and airmen whose regular duties are not security-related,” Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, spokesman for the state guard, said Monday.
The Department of Defense has mostly restricted personnel from carrying personal weapons at U.S. military sites, even after reviewing the policy in the wake of several of the recent shootings. But the federal agency can’t prevent governors from changing those regulations at state-controlled National Guard facilities. Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was one among several Republican governors who issued an executive order allowing Wisconsin Guard members to carry weapons while on duty.
Gazelka and other Republican lawmakers have urged Dayton to consider a similar order, but there has been no indication his administration would do so.
Change to law possible
The lawmakers say they will pursue a bill in next year’s legislative session that would lift the conceal-carry permit requirement from Minnesota Guard members as well as other active-duty members of the U.S. military. That would be a much more sweeping change than anything that might be contemplated regarding personal weapons just on guard bases.
Under the state’s conceal-carry law, only licensed police and other law enforcement officers are exempt from the permit requirement for carrying a privately owned firearm. Expanding it as the Republican lawmakers proposed could make thousands more Minnesotans exempt.
About 13,000 men and women serve in the Minnesota Army and Air National Guard, about 2,000 of them full-time. Olson did not have a number of active-duty military personnel in Minnesota, but a 2012 report in Governing Magazine put it at 750 active duty military members and 2,378 military civilians.
Gazelka said the GOP lawmakers did not intend to pursue any changes unless they are backed by Minnesota National Guard leadership. A state House panel is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on security at Minnesota National Guard recruiting sites.
Late Monday, Dayton’s office released a statement from the governor indicating he will defer to the state adjutant general. “This matter requires a number of considerations, which I believe are best left to the expertise of the Guard,” Dayton said.
But Heather Martens, executive director of the gun control group Protect Minnesota, said she didn’t think military service should entitle anyone to fewer restrictions for carrying privately owned weapons.
“It’s an effort to roll back safeguards we have now with conceal-carry,” Martens said. “You have to have some kind of screening to make sure that the person getting the permit to carry is not subject to a domestic violence restraining order or disqualified from owning a gun because of mental illness or other criminal history.”
Martens said given the growing regularity of mass shooting incidents, not just at military sites but at schools, movie theaters, workplaces and other locations, that policymakers should be looking for ways to tighten rather than loosen background checks to gun purchases.