The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill next week that would require states to accept concealed weapons permits issued in other states.
The measure already has the support of more than half the representatives in the House so it's likely to pass. It could significantly affect who authorities allow to carry a gun in Minnesota. Right now, Minnesota's Department of Public Safety only recognizes concealed carry permits from 15 states.
Department officials say laws in the remaining states, including neighbors North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin, aren't similar enough to Minnesota's concealed weapons law to grant reciprocity. U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack is one of the five Minnesota House members who back a bipartisan bill that would require all states to recognize concealed carry permits issued elsewhere.
Cravaack, a Republican, knows firsthand the problems that states' different laws pose for gun owners. He has a concealed carry permit and frequently drives to Wisconsin to visit his in-laws. "I have to take my weapon, take the bullets out of the weapon, put it in the trunk separated from the ammo," Cravaack said. "It's a little bit of a hassle. But at the same time, if I have a permit to carry, it should be respected in all the different states."
Other Minnesota supporters of the bill in the House include Republicans John Kline and Michele Bachmann and Democrats Collin Peterson and Tim Walz.
Democrats Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum oppose the bill, while Erik Paulsen, the sole Minnesota Republican who is not a cosponsor of the bill, said he has yet to review it.
Walz said Minnesota's experience with its concealed-weapons permit tells him the federal bill deserves support. "I think in this case, and I'll have to tell you, watching how it played out in Minnesota and the lack of any incident with the concealed carry permit, that I think it can be done the right way," Walz said. The House bill, known as HR 822, has led both sides in the debate about the nation's gun laws to flip the arguments they usually use. Traditionally, those favoring expanded access to guns have argued the issue is best handled by the states while opponents have looked to the federal government to restrict access to weapons.
But HR 822 has gun violence opponents such as Heather Martens of Citizens for a Safer Minnesota arguing that state gun laws are under attack. "Each state is a different place and there is supposed to be some level of autonomy at the state level to decide what public safety policy is going to be," Martens said. "This tramples all over that." Meanwhile, supporters such as Joseph Olson, a law professor at Hamline University, argue the opposite.
Olson, president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, argues that federal intervention is necessary because state laws have created a complex quilt of regulations. "The federal law is attempting to eliminate that and say if you have a permit, you have a permit and it's good like your drivers license everywhere you go," said Olson, who lobbied for the state's concealed carry law.
The mayors of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth and the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association have all come out against the federal concealed carry law, arguing that it could lead to more gun violence as people seek out permits from states with weaker concealed carry laws.
Brian Malte, director of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, said states with relatively stringent eligibility and training rules such as Minnesota will lose out. "For instance in South Dakota you only have to be 18 to get a concealed weapon permit. In most states, it's 21,"Malte said. "Some states don't bar violent misdemeanants or drug addicts or stalkers from getting a concealed weapon permit while other states do." With passage in the House all but certain, supporters and opponents of the bill have now set their sights on the Senate, where a vote could also take place this fall.
Minnesota's two Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both voted against a similar measure in 2009 and their offices say they also oppose this bill.