A record 301,268 Minnesota civilians have permits to carry a firearm in public, a number that has nearly doubled over the past six years.
Minnesota sheriffs issued 51,404 new five-year permits in 2019, with residents from Hennepin, Anoka and Dakota counties applying in the highest numbers.
Minnesota’s growing number of firearm carriers comes as some gun owners across the state are concerned about new proposals at the State Capitol that could make it harder to buy firearms. Other states have seen a jump in permit applications as similar gun measures were being debated.
Permit holder Sarah Cade Hauptman said that carrying a firearm “gives you more options to respond to dangerous situations. It’s all about having a choice and a chance.”
Hauptman, of Maplewood, said she frames her thinking about the law in terms of being a woman and a feminist.
“I view my gun as a tool that gives me parity of force with bigger, stronger or more numerous opponents,” she said. “I have the ability to enforce decisions about my body and my boundaries without depending on others. … I have more options than just hoping for rescue. I’m my own rescue.”
The group Protect Minnesota opposed the permit-to-carry legislation from the start, fearing it would lead to a rise in gun violence.
“Having more guns in more public places puts more Minnesotans at risk of being shot,” said Kate Havelin, chairwoman of the group’s board. “Minnesotans aren’t safer with more armed people in public.”
Sheriffs reported suspending 143 permits, revoking 33 and denying 656, which can be based on a lack of required firearms training or a criminal background, according to data compiled annually by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
In more than a dozen cases, Minnesotans deemed a threat to themselves or others successfully appealed their initial denial and were granted a permit.
Legislators are debating a range of firearm-related measures at the Minnesota Capitol, including proposals to require background checks on private sales and so-called “red flag” laws that gives judges the authority to confiscate firearms from those they believe are a risk to themselves or others.
As legislators debate the issue, a growing number of Minnesota counties are passing resolutions declaring themselves a “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” saying they will refuse to enforce what they call “unconstitutional gun-control legislation.”
In 2001, state Sen. Jane Ranum, a Minneapolis DFLer, called the legislation allowing permits to carry firearms in public “insane, crazy.”
“This will change the culture of Minnesota. It will no longer be Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon. It will be the ‘Wild Wild West,’ ” she said at the time.
Ranum said her sentiments remain. She pointed to the 2012 Accent Signage rampage in Minneapolis that left six dead, including the shooter who had a permit to carry, despite his family having sought mental health treatment for him.
She worries that the permit law has only made it easier for those with mental illness to be armed in public.
“My concerns about why we shouldn’t have passed it have been realized and then some,” said Ranum, who left the Senate in 2007.
Last year, there were 61 instances across Minnesota when authorities determined that someone with a permit was convicted of using a firearm in a crime.
Half of those involved weapons violations, such as not having the permit paperwork along, being under the influence of alcohol or having a firearm in a courthouse or a school.
Otherwise, the dominant categories last year were for assault and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. None was for homicide. Since permit-to-carry became law, 11 people with permits were convicted of homicide and using a gun in the crime.
Looking back, Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie is reassessing his wariness since permit-to-carry in Minnesota became law 17 years ago, back when he was a top St. Paul police administrator and the proposal promoted by the National Rifle Association was under heated debate at the Legislature.
“I was opposed; I just thought it was, I don’t know, scary,” Leslie said last week, referring to the 2001 push to ease restrictions on what was loosely known as conceal-and-carry. “As I have lived through this, I’ve learned it’s been much more freeing for people to have some control back. They want to exercise this right.”
In June 2017 in Minnetonka, permit holder James LaCount got in a fight at a ministorage facility and shot and killed 58-year-old Thomas Luetzow. Prosecutors declined to charge the 65-year-old LaCount after a police report noted his “heroic actions of self-defense.”
Nearly three years later, LaCount said, he’s grateful for the law that allowed him to have a gun that day and to this day.
“I don’t go anywhere without one,” the Hopkins man said. “I’ve seen a couple of people acting insane, but there are only a couple of reasons [to reach for a gun in public]: when someone else’s life is in danger or mine.”