By Don Davis
Gun opponents testified Tuesday that they felt uncomfortable earlier this year when they knew gun advocates were packing in the Capitol, but a key opponent admitted he likely will not win a gun ban.
Gun proponents far outnumbered opponents in the meeting, called to bring more information to a committee that is supposed to advise legislators and the governor about whether guns would be allowed in the state Capitol complex.
The two sides remained far apart philosophically in the Advisory Committee on Capitol Area Security meeting.
Gun opponent Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, admitted that it is unlikely he can convince enough lawmakers to support his Capitol gun ban plan. Earlier in the year, his attempts at stricter gun control laws failed.
The debate came a week after Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he would not favor clamping down on guns in the Capitol. That is in contrast with Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, who said her “knee jerk” reaction would be to forbid guns in the building.
Prettner Solon leads the Capitol security panel and on Tuesday spent much of her time looking for middle ground on the issue.
“There is lots of room for movement,” she said after the meeting, adding that there will be several more meetings before the committee offers any advice. “We don’t have to jump from one extreme to the other extreme.”
Safety needs to be considered, she said. “I do not want to be in a position where we have an incident at our Capitol and have not thoroughly looked at the situation.”
Tuesday’s arguments sounded a lot like those heard earlier this year when gun control legislation was debated. The difference was that some who were in the Capitol for the earlier debates returned to say they felt threatened at those hearings, packed with pro-gun activists carrying pistols.
“I started to feel deeply intimidated,” Anna Gambucci said.
Sami Rahamim, whose father was killed in a mass shooting at Accent Signage in Minneapolis in 2012, said that the “Capitol is a place for free-flowing ideas … not bullets.”
But Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, and other gun supporters said no incidents have been reported in the Capitol because of guns. “Law abiding citizens have the right to protect themselves. There is nothing broken.”
State law allows Minnesotans who have permits to carry handguns to carry them in the Capitol as long as they notify the state public safety commissioner first. Nearly 840 people have given that notification.
Kevin Vick said it is an “irrational fear” that guns put Capitol visitors at risk. Firearms crimes have fallen drastically in the past two decades, he said.
Heather Calio of the National Rifle Association said banning guns would threaten gun owners’ rights. “You should not have to choose between participation and security.”
Public Safety Commissioner Romona Dohman agreed there is a need to balance the need for security with the ability for Minnesotans to move around the Capitol.
Long-time open-government advocate Rich Neumeister did not address the guns issue, but he strongly urged the committee to recommend that as the state Capitol is renovated and a new Senate office building is constructed that designers keep public access to their public officials in mind.
Neumeister, a Capitol fixture, said he opposes a design like Minneapolis City Hall, where officials come in through a “secret” entrance and leave the same way, never allowing for public contact.