Thursday, May 19, 2005

Minnesota House Votes To Reinstate Gun Bill

A bill allowing more law-abiding Minnesotans to legally carry a handgun easily passed the House on Wednesday and now goes to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who said he will sign it. The Republican-controlled House voted 86-47 to reinstate the conceal-carry law, which has been overturned by the courts. The 2003 law allowed adults with a clean record, no mental illness and proper training to get a permit to carry a gun. After the courts struck down the law, citing the procedure by which it was passed, the state reverted to a more restrictive system where sheriffs and police chiefs had more authority to refuse a permit application. Last week, the DFL-controlled Senate voted 44-21 for identical legislation reinstating the law. That means the House and Senate versions won't have to be reconciled and the bill goes straight to Pawlenty's desk. "This right to own guns is extremely important to the people I represent," said Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji. "This is a fundamental civil right that people in Minnesota expect." The vote came the day after all 134 House members received an e-mail threatening them if they didn't support the legislation. The message seemed aimed at 55 DFL lawmakers who either voted against the bill in 2003 or had no voting record on the gun permitting issue. Capitol security officers have said the e-mail appeared to be a hoax, and were investigating. The debate got underway after Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, asked her colleagues to observe a moment of silence for Billy Walsh, a bouncer shot outside a Minneapolis night club last week. The man charged in the shooting, Zachary Ourada, is believed to be the first permit holder charged with murder since the 2003 permit-to-carry law took effect. More than 25,000 people got five-year handgun permits after the 2003 law took effect and before it was suspended by a Ramsey County judge's ruling. Backers said the increase in permits didn't lead to significant problems. "More people have been injured by light rail than the conceal-carry bill," Pawlenty said on a Minnesota Public Radio call-in show before the vote. "If you just look at the statistical evidence, it hasn't caused any aberrational problems." Democratic opponents of the bill held a news conference in which a Minneapolis bartender who attended Walsh's funeral Tuesday said he doesn't think people should be allowed to carry concealed weapons. "I would say after this incident, no bartender would be for this," said James Snyder, who works at the Times Bar and Cafe, across the street from the site of the shooting. "We're hollow and afraid." It's unfair to blame a gun permit for Walsh's shooting, said Joe Olson, president of Concealed Carry Reform Now, the group that fought hardest for passage of the 2003 gun law. "The guy decided to be a murderer. His permit had nothing to do with it," Olson said. "My heart goes out to the family of Mr. Walsh." Opponents predicted the gun legislation will face more court challenges because it doesn't ban weapons in churches and other religious buildings. Instead, those institutions would have to post signs prohibiting guns or verbally tell visitors that guns aren't allowed. Lawmakers also defeated attempts to ban guns from sports stadiums and movie theaters and to allow schools to banish guns kept in the trunk of a vehicle from their property. State law bans guns on school grounds, but not if they're stored in a trunk. The bill passed by the Legislature is close to the original 2003 law, but it allows establishments to ban guns by putting up signs or telling visitors guns aren't allowed. Under the old law, they had to do both. The gun law would take effect immediately if Pawlenty signs it.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty