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Senate passes bill that expands use of deadly force

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A bill that would allow citizens more freedom to use deadly force is now on a fast track to Gov. Mark Dayton.

The Senate passed the bill Thursday with bipartisan support in a 40-23 vote after heated debate.

The bill gives gun owners significantly more latitude to use deadly force for self defense. The bill creates a presumption that anyone who uses deadly force while in a home or dwelling does so believing themselves in danger of harm or death. It expands the definition of dwelling to also mean a hotel room, tent, car or boat.

Dayton has not said if he will veto the bill, but was concerned with police opposition. 

Supporters of the bill say it will increase personal protection. But opponents say it would actually threaten public safety and increase the risks faced by law enforcement officers.

Some Democrats and law enforcement groups shared concerns that the bill makes it harder to charge a criminal with murder and said it puts police in greater danger when entering homes.

Under current state law, deadly force is allowed for self defense if a person believes within reason that they're facing bodily harm or death. The law also allows the use of a weapon to prevent a felony from occurring in a person's home. The proposed legislation would broaden the law to include motor vehicles, boats, motor homes, tents and other locations. The bill also shifts the burden of proof in self-defense cases from the defense to the prosecution, and would no longer require a person to retreat to avoid a perceived threat.

The Minnesota House passed the bill last session but will have to concur with the slightly different senate version to avoid a conference committee.

The gun bill makes other changes to current law, including a ban on weapon confiscations by law enforcement during declared emergencies. Another provision would recognize valid permits to carry pistols from any other state. Under current law, only permits from states with similar gun laws are recognized in Minnesota. There are 14 states that meet that criteria.

Rick Dusterhoft, a prosecutor in Ramsey County, said he opposes the provision to recognize handgun carry permits issued by other states.

"Other states don't necessarily require training and a background check to get a permit. This bill would require Minnesota to honor permits from other states that don't have the same stringent standards that Minnesota does," Dusterhoft said. "And I don't think we want to put guns in the hands of people that we're not sure should have guns."

Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said her bill ensures people can defend themselves in all situations.

"If you are anywhere you can legally be, you can defend yourself against a criminal," Hoffman said. "If I'm out on the street and I'm doing what I can legally do, and someone comes at me and I feel imminent danger of physical harm, I should be able to react with equal or greater force."

Expanding the law makes sense to Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, who served 16 years as sheriff in Douglas County. the The vast majority of major crimes take place outside of people's homes, Ingebrigtsen said.

      "Why wouldn't we afford the people — the people we actually work for — the good citizens of the country and the state of Minnesota, the ability to protect themselves wherever they are in the state of Minnesota," Ingebrigtsen said.

Several law enforcement groups, including those representing police officers, police chiefs, sheriffs and county attorneys, oppose the changes. Many came to lobby against the bill at the Capitol.

Minnetonka Police Chief Mark Raquet said he is concerned for his officers and the community they're sworn to protect.

"We are putting law enforcement at risk, and we are giving a loophole in the law to allow people to take action into their own hands, and really having less accountability than we do as licensed police officers with all of our training and all the expectations we have," Raquet said.

Several Senate Democrats echoed that concern. DFL Sen. John Harrington, who previously served as the police chief in St. Paul, said state law already provides Minnesotans the right to protect themselves.

"This bill makes it sound like home invasions are an everyday occurrence, when in fact they are extremely rare," Harrington said. "And on those rare occasions when they do happen, our current law allows the homeowner to take appropriate and reasonable action to defend themselves."

Dayton told the House author he would wait the full three days before acting on the bill, once it lands on his desk.

"I went to the funeral of a courageous police officer in Lake City just a couple of weeks ago, Shawn Schneider — and his widow and three children," Schneider said. "I don't want to do that again, and I don't want to do anything that they believe based on their considerable experience is going to put their lives at greater risk."

Schneider died after he was shot responding to a domestic dispute call. 

Associated Press contributed to this report