Is there a danger of guns being used in Minnesota’s Capitol complex? That concern was one of the reasons the Capitol Security Advisory Task Force, headed by Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, met Tuesday to consider tightening restrictions on guns in the Capitol.
Minnesota is one of only 12 or 13 states that allows guns to be carried by the public in the state’s Capitol. Minnesota gun carriers must have a permit to carry a gun and notify the state. However at a contentious hearing last week, it was revealed the state does not always verify that the gun owner has a permit before placing them on an approved list. More than 800 gun owners are currently on the list of citizens who may carry weapons into the Capitol and the other buildings of the 14-acre Capitol complex.
Gun-safety advocates and gun-control opponents flocked to the Capitol Tuesday to argue about possible firearm restrictions in the Capitol — even though there was no actual proposal or piece of legislation on the table.
With nothing on the docket, unsurprisingly, nothing was agreed to during the Advisory Committee on Capitol Security meeting, except that observers might be excused for believing there is widespread confusion about the legal reach of current Capitol safety laws as well as the exact responsibly of gun owners at the Capitol.
Though Minnesota statutes state gun carriers must notify the Commissioner of Public Safety when bringing a firearm to the Capitol, the statutes fail to define key safety components including how, where and when such notifications should be submitted.
In addition to Prettner Solon, members of the Advisory Committee included Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea; State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria; State Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope; State Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine; and State Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul. Solon and Paymar raised questions about whether it might be wise to tighten security and screen visitors for weapons, but no specific plans were proposed. The task force pressed State Patrol Maj. Bob Meyerson and Capt. Rochelle Schrofer about the loose ends in the current law, but failed to receive much in the way of concrete answers.
“It seems reasonable … that people would have to resubmit (their notification) when their permit is renewed?” Lt. Gov. Solon asked.
Maj. Meyerson replied that the notification list “is maintained” but failed to state if gun permit licenses were double checked and verified with gun owners names. He also said that though 832 carriers were on the list as of last week, “we don’t know of their (license) status thereafter.”
“If they’ve notified the Commissioner once, they notified us,” said Ramona Dohman, the Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen said it “doesn’t appear that anything is broken” with the current security notification process and argued that mass killings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., could have been diminished or avoided if licensed gun owners had been at the shootings.
“Maybe 10 of those parents would have gone home mourning the deaths of their babies instead of 20,” Ingebrigtsen said while speaking about the school massacre in Newtown.
At times, Paymar seemed visibly frustrated by the lack of answers. After a short debate on whether gun carriers make the Capitol less safe or safer, Rep. Paymar said that this “quasi posse” of gun owners are not responsible for his personal safety. “I don’t need them to protect me and I don’t want them to protect me,” he said.
One hand Tuesday was Sami Rahamim, son of Reuven Rahamim who was killed in the workplace shootings at his Minneapolis business Accent Signage last year. Sami Rahamim was one of the first to testify Tuesday, advocating against current Capitol gun carry laws. His father’s killer was licensed to carry a weapon, Rahamim said. “What’s to say that an individual with a similar type of personal disregard for someone in these halls … would not (fire their gun) here in these halls of government? Please don’t wait for the next tragedy to happen.”
– Reporting for The UpTake by Kathryn Nelson