Minn. Capitol sees spike in gun notices

Waiting in line
Attendees of a gun control hearing wait with their tickets, which were required to enter because of the high public interest, at the state Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by DFL Sen. Ron Latz, heard testimony on several gun-related bills.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Handgun holstered on his hip, Anthony Triemert showed up to Minnesota's Capitol on Friday for the latest in a number of recent legislative hearings on various gun control proposals.

"I just came down here today to show support for Second Amendment rights," he said. But Triemert's right to carry a loaded gun is safe in this building. Minnesota is one of at least nine states that allow people to carry guns into the brick-and-mortar homes of government.

All he and other Minnesotans have to do is notify the Minnesota Department of Public Safety in advance. As hundreds of pro-gun activists have streamed into the state's legislative hearings on gun controls, such notifications have spiked in the last month -- almost 1/5th of all notifications given since the current permit law took effect in 2006.

Between Jan. 18 and Feb. 22, 150 people notified DPS of the intent to carry their weapons on the Capitol complex. By contrast, only 56 such notifications were filed in all of 2012. And since the law took effect, a total of 723 individuals have notified the agency.

On Friday, gun rights activists again came out in force for the second day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Most of them didn't wear their guns openly like Triemert, though he was not the only one. An auto mechanic from Brooklyn Park who's now on disability, Triemert said he wears the gun almost everywhere he goes.

"I don't believe in gun safe zones. I think it's an advertisement for a killing zone," Triemert said, noting he carries a weapon for protection because of his own physical limitations.

Private establishments in Minnesota are allowed to post signs stating that guns are not allowed on the premises. But no such rules are in place at the Capitol, which has no metal detectors at its public entrances.

"I don't like people carrying weapons in the Capitol," said Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, a Judiciary Committee member and outspoken gun control supporter. "This is a place where controversial decisions are made all the time. Emotions can run high."

Still, Goodwin said, any nerves about guns in the Senate hearing room wouldn't dissuade her from speaking out. Armed State Patrol officers were posted at the House and Senate hearings, a relative rarity in legislative proceedings.

Goodwin said she and colleagues tried to prohibit guns in the Capitol in 2006, but lacked the votes to do so. Some lawmakers have acknowledged carrying their own weapons at the Capitol, including Republican Rep. Tony Cornish of Good Thunder, a strong opponent of tighter gun laws.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-ST. Louis Park, and state Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, both plan to assemble separate sets of gun control measures for lawmakers to consider. But there's been no talk of changing the state's carry permit law that allows guns at the Capitol.

Latz has said he would not pursue an assault weapons ban, which is sought by gun control activists but strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association and its allies.

Since Latz took that off the table, the debate has increasingly focused on a bill that would require background checks for all gun purchases in Minnesota -- not just those that go through federally licensed dealers, but also sales at gun shows, online and between individuals. The NRA and Minnesota pro-gun groups oppose that measure, too.

Joe Isaacs, a real estate agent from the Stillwater area who has helped organize gun control opponents at the Capitol hearings, said he typically wears his gun everywhere. He notified DPS of plans to wear it at the Capitol, but changed his mind after realizing it could be seen as a provocative act.

"It could have been a distraction, and take the focus off the issue," Isaacs said. "I don't wear it to be political. It's for safety."

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