Still recovering from a gunman’s attempt on his life, Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell joined his colleagues Thursday in petitioning the Legislature for better protection for prosecutors.

Scannell, who was shot in his courthouse office last month by a convict he had just prosecuted, was one of several legal and law enforcement officials lined up to support legislation that would toughen penalties for anyone who assaults or kills a prosecutors – as well as give prosecutors the option to carry firearms while on duty.

“I don’t think that getting shot makes me brave, I don’t think that going back to work makes me brave,” said Scannell, who was shot in the chest and leg in mid-December and has recovered enough to work part-time. “I’m not going tell you it doesn’t make me nervous, it does. But we’re trying to take steps to address the issues.”

Legislation proposed by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, would allow prosecutors to arm themselves, if they choose and if the courthouse rules permit. Current state law bars state employees from carrying firearms while on duty – a restriction that does not apply to judges, public defenders or private attorneys.

Although gun-related legislation usually sets off a firestorm at the Capitol, opposition was muted to the measure at Thursday’s hearing.

A few DFL committee members and gun control advocates voiced concerns that the bill might overrule judges’ restrictions on guns in the courtroom, but Cornish said the law is only intended to give prosecutors the same rights to a carry permit as any other Minnesotan.

Right now, the only authorities allowed to bring guns in Minnesota courtrooms are the bailiffs responsible for court house security. Minnesota gives judges the authority to say whether and where guns can be carried elsewhere on courthouse grounds. 

The bill, HF 1829, passed the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention committee unopposed.

Even if the Legislature gives county attorneys and assistant county attorneys the right to arm themselves at work, Scannell said he wouldn’t do so himself.

“I’m not a gun guy,” said the attorney, who helped fight off his assailant, in spite of the bullet lodged an inch from his heart. “I support it, but I’m not skilled in that way.”

One prosecutor who would like that option is Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Chris Rovney, who was targeted by a disgruntled suspect who put out a contract on his life back in 2006. The man knew where he lived, and knew the routes he took to work, Rovney said, but the law still said the prosecutor couldn’t arm himself while on duty.

“He wanted to kill me, he wanted to kill the judge, he wanted to kill the head of the drug task force who wasn’t even involved in this case. Fortunately, he wasn’t that intelligent,” said Rovney, noting that the hit man the suspect tried to hire turned out to be a police informant. “The law as it is now, for lack of a better word, is discriminatory for county attorneys because we do not have the same rights as any other citizen.”