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The Advisory Committee on Capitol Security used its second hearing to take public testimony on whether lawmakers should enforce tougher rules on carrying firearms in the Capitol. Nearly 30 people signed up to testify on the issue, many of them supporters of current state law that allows permit holders to carry guns in the building if they notify the Public Safety Department or Capitol Security.

Committee makes no recommendations on guns at the Capitol

Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner-Solon leads second hearing of Capitol Security Committee Tuesday on the issue of carrying guns in the Capitol (staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner-Solon leads second hearing of Capitol Security Committee Tuesday on the issue of carrying guns in the Capitol (staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

A panel tasked with hashing out the issue of carrying guns in the Minnesota Capitol held its second meeting on Tuesday and adjourned without making recommendations, despite concern from some officials that current laws don’t go far enough to protect lawmakers and citizens visiting the building.

The Advisory Committee on Capitol Security used its second hearing to take public testimony on whether lawmakers should enforce tougher rules on carrying firearms in the Capitol. Nearly 30 people signed up to testify on the issue, many of them supporters of current state law that allows permit holders to carry guns in the building if they notify the Public Safety Department or Capitol Security.

Public Safety Commissioner Ramona Dohman was on hand to answer questions from lawmakers and expressed concern that current laws do not allow her office to follow up and confirm that people requesting to carry a weapon actually have a permit. “We have had these discussions in my office since we came,” Dohman said. “I think there are people who are under the assumption that we have the authority to make that verification.”

Many of those requests come via email, she added, and there’s no rule requiring a permit holder to submit their request more than once. “If they have notified the commissioner once, they have notified the commissioner,” Dohman said.

Concerns about gun safety were a major topic in the Legislature this year after 20 schoolchildren were slain in a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut and a workplace shooting that left six dead in Minneapolis last year. The DFL-controlled Legislature held several days of hearings on various gun law changes last session, but policies like universal background checks failed to gain traction.

Many of the citizens who came to testify at Capitol security hearing were also at the gun debates, including Sami Rahamim, whose father was shot and killed at his business, Accent Signage, in Minneapolis last year. Rahamim said he felt intimidated knowing many of the people present at those hearings were also carrying guns, and anyone could have become disgruntled enough to use it to harm others.

“Please, don’t wait for the next tragedy to happen,” Rahamim said. Opponents of guns at the Capitol also argued that other government buildings and public spaces ban weapons.

But supporters of current laws said lawmakers are trying to fix a system that isn’t broken. There haven’t been any incidents related to permit carriers at the Capitol in more than seven years, said State Patrol Captain Robert Meyerson.

“You can put those hypotheticals out all day long, but there hasn’t been anything broken here,” Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said.

Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, expressed frustration that the committee wouldn’t be making recommendations, suggesting members had been “silenced.” Paymar, who supports banning guns at the Capitol, pushed universal background checks last session but was blocked by Republicans and members of his own caucus. Paymar called Capitol permit carriers a “quasi-posse,” and criticized arguments that citizens carrying weapons in the Capitol could make everyone safer.  “I don’t need them protecting me,” he said. “I don’t want them protecting me.”

Gov. Mark Dayton has been cool to the idea of changing gun rules at the Capitol, but his lieutenant governor and the committee’s chairwoman, Yvonne Prettner-Solon, said there could be a compromise position, even suggesting barring guns from the Capitol on days when contentious issues will be debated.

“I think there are lots of ways in the middle to deal with this issue and still allow people to carry their guns,” she said.

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