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Gun rights activists wary of Minn. Capitol security meeting

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Gun rights advocates are expected to turn out for a meeting Wednesday morning that aims to examine security at the Minnesota State Capitol. They're concerned about a possible move to ban guns from the landmark building that others say is not as protected from violence as it could be.

Andrew Rothman, vice president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, has been encouraging his members to wear maroon shirts and pack the room for the discussion before the Advisory Committee on Capitol Security. 

Rothman said there is no reason to ban legal, permit-to-carry holders from bringing guns to the Capitol because, "We don't have a problem in the Minnesota state Capitol."

The panel was formed in 2012 by the Legislature. It's chaired by Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon and its members include Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea. At the Wednesday meeting, members will get an overview on current weapons laws at  the Capitol and other state government buildings. 

Security concerns are nothing new at the Capitol.

In 2009, the legislative auditor reported finding "significant security vulnerabilities" there.  In early 2011, following the shootings in Arizona that killed six people and wounded more than a dozen others including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Gov. Mark Dayton called for a review of Capitol security. 

Rothman holds a permit to carry a gun. He says he's armed most of the time, is happy to show the small black pistol he carries in his left front pants pocket, and remind others of his Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

"The default in the United States and in Minnesota is for freedom, not for restriction. When someone's rights are restricted, especially somebody's fundamental human rights and constitutional rights, there needs to be a compelling reason to do so. We don't have that compelling reason in the state Capitol," he said.

But DFL state Rep. Michael Paymar of St. Paul thinks there are plenty of reasons guns should be kept out of the Capitol.

"It's an open building," where lots of contentious issues are vigorously debated, he said. "It's a shame at this point in our history that we have to be examining security, but just like in airports and courthouses, we are living at a different time."

Paymar acknowledged that enforcing gun restrictions at the building would be a challenge because the whole Capitol perimeter would need to be secured with metal detection equipment.

Republican state Rep. Tony Cornish, of Vernon Center, a law enforcement veteran, says mass shooting incidents that prompt calls for tighter gun control only solidify his belief in the right to carry a firearm.

"I've always believed in people being armed as being the best protection," he said. "It's always in a place where people aren't protected," he said of gun violence. "It's in schools where there's a gun-free zone. It doesn't happen at gun ranges. It doesn't happen at gun shows. It doesn't happen at well-armed places."

Cornish is not on the Capitol Security committee, but he plans to be watching the meeting along with other gun rights supporters,

Asked about Capitol security after an event in Red Wing on Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton did not sound concerned about citizens bringing guns to the Capitol complex.

"If they have the legal right in Minnesota to go into most places, then I don't know why the Capitol would be treated differently," Dayton said.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify Andrew Rothman's position with regards to the Second Amendment.