Will Minnesota's new law make it easier for people to get conceal and carry permits? Or will the new training requirements make it harder? Will the law make the state safer, or more dangerous?
These questions were hotly debated throughout the legislative session leading to the passing of the law last month giving qualified, law-abiding citizens the right to conceal and carry a handgun in Minnesota. These questions will continue to be debated until the law goes into effect on May 28.
Until then, everyone -- including law enforcement -- is playing "wait and see."
Under the old system, police chiefs and sheriffs used their discretion in giving out permits. Applicants included businessmen transporting valuables and bank delivery personnel, according to Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc. Under the new law, an applicant doesn't have to demonstrate a need for the handgun. However, they do have to pass a training course, pay a heftier fee for the permit, and renew the permit every five years.
The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department issued about 900 gun permits last year, with most of them being conceal-and-carry permits for pistols. The Brainerd Police Department issued about 100 permits last year, with about 90 of them being conceal-and-carry permits. The Baxter Police Department issued about 80 gun permits last year.
Twelve thousand Minnesotans currently hold gun permits. A legislative study estimates that number will rise to 90,000 within three years, although some believe that number is high.
No local control
Supporters are pleased that the guidelines for getting a permit will now be uniform throughout the state. They argued that it has been more difficult for residents of metropolitan areas such as Duluth and Minneapolis to get permits than people in rural areas such as Crow Wing County.
But Brainerd Mayor James Wallin said he is concerned about guns being allowed in public places like city hall.
"A lot of states allow people to carry, and that's fine," Wallin said. "But not in public places. There's not a need for that and it's unsafe."
Shooters must hit this target in the lethal zone to pass the CLC course.
Wallin also believes sheriff's discretion was a key component to the old system.
"People from different walks of life applied for permits," he said. "The sheriff is the best judge of who should or should not get one, not the state."
Law enforcement adjusts
Perhaps the biggest unanswered questions will be faced by law enforcement. For example, just how "concealed" does a gun have to be?
Bolduc called the new law "cumbersome" and Crow Wing County Sheriff Eric Klang said he's "not overly thrilled." Wallin said the new law was not written with the best interests of law enforcement in mind.
Before the new law goes into effect, the Brainerd Police Department plans to distribute information to officers on how to deal with the new law. But there are still many unknown factors. Bolduc's chief concern is the definition of "conceal and carry."
"How concealed does it have to be?" he said. "How many guns can a person have on them? If someone walks down Main Street with a holstered pistol, does that count as concealed? At this point, we don't know."
There also is the possibility that the police station could receive more phone calls about a person carrying a gun.
"If a citizen sees someone with a gun, they could become alarmed," he said.
Under the new law, the sheriff's department will be in charge of giving out permits. Klang and other sheriffs around the state are currently examining how process the applications smoothly and uniformly, but he sees some problems in the new law that might be unavoidable.
Terry Fairbanks demonstrated how shooters must start from the holstered position and draw their weapon to aim at targets at distances of 2 yards, 7 yards and 15 yards as part of a CLC handgun training course.
The law states that a person from out of state wishing to carry a concealed weapon in Minnesota may apply to any sheriff in the state.
"You don't have to be a resident, so someone from Wisconsin could come to me for a permit. How do I track this guy down? It might be more difficult to find out where this guy is living," Klang said.
Law enforcement adjusts
Bolduc said he hasn't run into many problems with conceal-and-carry permit holders in the past. He recalls one arrest of a permit-holder for dealing drugs; the gun permit was revoked.
"But I've had no experience with crimes of violence when possessing a permit," he said.
Klang said law-abiding citizens with guns should not be a concern.
"It's people who don't go through the channels that worry us," he said.
Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, voted for the legislation in part because he thinks it might make Minnesota safer.
"Criminals are not going to worry about getting a permit," Koering said. "But some of these crooks might be more hesitant if they think someone might have a concealed gun and give them some resistance."
Rep. Dale Walz, R-Brainerd, also voted for the law. He said some of the safety concerns were "overzealous."
Three ways to conceal a weapon include an inside-the-pants or pancake holster (left), a Level One holster or a fanny pack.
Walz, a Baxter police captain, said the estimate that 90,000 Minnesotans would have a gun permit within three years is "ludicrous."
"There are not going to be tens of thousands of people armed," Walz said. "We don't need to fear drive-by shootings. Minnesota is not going back to the Old West."
However, critics argue that more guns among law-abiding citizens leads to a greater potential of firearms being stolen and ending up in the hands of dangerous criminals.
"Those are legitimate concerns," Bolduc said. "But I'm not convinced that more people will be buying and possessing guns now. (If that happened) that could be dangerous. But I would think people would use the same discretion they have always used, and not leave guns lying around the house."
Wallin argues that law enforcement could face awkward, even dangerous, scenarios.
"They could be in a more hazardous position if they pull someone over, and the person goes for their driver's license and they have a gun," he said. "There's a certain amount of stress involved in that situation."
Businesses can post signs
The new law states that any law-abiding citizen, who meets the law requirements, such as completing gun training, shall be issued a permit. People ineligible for a permit include those who have been committed as mentally ill and people convicted of violent crimes. As with a driver's license, abuse of a permit can lead to its revocation. For example, it is illegal to carry a gun with a blood alcohol level of .04 or higher.
Even with a permit, concealed weapons cannot be taken everywhere. They are banned from the State Capitol, courthouses, federal facilities, airports, prisons, jails, state hospitals, K-12 schools and school property and public colleges and universities.
The law allows businesses and churches to post signs restricting guns. Employers may prohibit employees from carrying firearms in the work place.
Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce President Bob Brekken has not heard from any businesses planning to post signs, and he has no plans to do so at his Westgate Mall business. Westgate manager Ruth Norman said there are no plans to post any signs outside the mall.
Pawnbrokers: Gun sales won't increase
Brainerd pawnbrokers said the new law will not lead to an increased interest in guns.
"We won't sell any more guns than we do now," said Bob Barsness of T&B Pawn. "People who really wanted a permit already have one."
Kevin Olson of Iron Hills Pawn agreed.
"It won't change anything other than the fact that permits will now cost quite a bit of money," he said.
Olson believes cities such as Duluth and Minneapolis may see an increase in gun sales, but Crow Wing County won't.
"A lot of people already have permits in Crow Wing County, so it won't affect this area too much," he said.
Permits more expensive
Klang said the costs of classes and the permit itself may actually deter some people from seeking permits or even purchasing a gun in the first place.
Terry Fairbanks, head of the Criminal Justice Department at Central Lakes College, said the registration fee for the training class at CLC will be $50. People who do have permits must take the class again every five years to be re-certified.
Under the old law, permit fees were fairly low. At the Baxter Police Department, the fee is $5 to cover laminating of the permit. Under the new law, the permit fee will be somewhere between $25 and $100. According to the legislation, the cost of the permit may not exceed $100 and the renewal fee may not exceed $75. The legislation also states that $21.50 of each permit fee will go toward a general fund to cover startup costs for the Department of Public Safety database (on July 1, 2004, it will go down to $10 per permit).
Klang said Crow Wing County will charge $100 for a permit.
"They have to go to school and they charge for that, and every five years the permit has to be re-issued," Klang said. "Who's got eight hours to spend for a permit to carry? It might discourage people from even wanting a gun."
Fairbanks agrees that the new law makes it more difficult to get a permit.
"If you look at the standards, it's tougher than before the legislation," he said. "On one hand, law enforcement doesn't have the ability to deny a permit; on the other hand, the standards are higher. Plus, it's more expensive. A person might (look at the cost and say), 'I guess I don't need to have a gun.'"
People who currently hold a conceal-and-carry permit will be allowed to keep their permit until it expires, at which point they will have to complete a training course to have it renewed.
More information on the law is available from the Department of Public Safety's Web site at www.dps.state.mn.us.
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