House OKs expanded protection rights

By Danielle Nordine

Weapons dominated discussion Wednesday night as the Minnesota House approved bills expanding self-defense rights, allowing county attorneys to carry weapons while on duty and increasing penalties for injuring prosecutors.

In the most controversial vote of the three, representatives approved a bill 85-47 that expands the right to use deadly force for personal protection to anywhere an individual lawfully can be. It passed in the House last year, but minor changes made in the Senate required it to come before representatives again to agree with the modifications.

“We had a good debate last year and (the bill) has come back even better,” sponsor Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said.

The bill now will go to Gov. Mark Dayton. He has not said whether he will sign it into law, but said he usually sides with police officers. Organizations representing them generally oppose the measure.

Minnesota already has the so-called “castle doctrine,” allowing people to use force to defend their homes. The bill representatives passed Wednesday night expands the right to other places.

Opponents of the bill said that law already protects those acting in self-defense, but bill supporters said it is not enough.

Many violent crimes are happening outside of the home, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, a former Douglas County sheriff, said last week.

A number of state law enforcement and county attorney organizations opposed the bill. They have said the legislation would make their work more dangerous and could make it easier to defend murder.

The bill includes a provision saying a person cannot use force against someone they “know or reasonably should know” is a peace officer.

Minnesota would be required to recognize firearms permits from other states under the bill. That worried some opponents who said permit conditions are less stringent in other places.

The bill also would prevent law enforcement officers from confiscating weapons during governor-declared states of emergency.

The bill was reapproved by the House mainly along party lines with Republicans supporting it.

Voting 116-15, the House also determined county attorneys should be able to carry weapons while on duty. The bill exempts county attorneys and assistant county attorneys from a state statute prohibiting local government employees from carrying firearms on duty.

Public defenders, court administrators and others already are exempt.

Discussion started on the weapons bill soon after Cook County prosecutor Tim Scannell was shot and injured in a Grand Marais, Minn., courthouse, but Cornish said the language was drafted before that happened in December. Scannell has spoken in favor of the bill.

Judges have the ability to limit firearms in the courtroom, and most have. The bill would not change that, Cornish said. It would allow county attorneys to protect themselves in public or other situations when they might be considered “on duty,” he said.

The proposal is supported by the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, among others.

Those who injure or kill prosecuting attorneys would face stiffer penalties under a third bill approved by the House 130-1 Wednesday. Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, voted against the bill.

Some lawmakers wondered why other attorneys or court personnel weren’t added to the proposal.

“The short answer is they never brought a bill to me,” Cornish said.

While there are Senate bills similar to the two county attorney proposals, neither has received a hearing.

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