High-profile gun bill advances in the House

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

In a packed committee room — many in the audience wearing green buttons proclaiming, “Self Defense is a Human Right” — a House committee today (Thursday, April 28) heard and advanced controversial gun legislation.

House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee Chairman Tony Cornish’s bill expands a person’s ability to defend themselves and their property against perceived threats through the use of deadly force.

Although current state allows for the use of deadly force under certain conditions, Cornish’s bill would significantly change the law.

For instance, it broadens the definition of dwelling to include all buildings on a person’s property, and also includes tents, motor homes, hotel rooms.

It establishes a rebuttal presumption so that the person using deadly force is presumed to possess a reasonable belief that they’re facing imminent threat of great bodily harm or death.

It reverses the burden of proof in self-defense cases, so the defender no longer needs to prove their innocence, but prosecutors need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defender did not act lawfully.

The bill allows for a defender to meet force with superior force, and continue using that force until the threat is eliminated.

Republican Cornish, a former game warden and current Chief of Police of Lake Crystal, has been shot at twice in the line of duty and had more guns pointed at him while a game warden, he explained, than the average law enforcement officer would ever confront.

Still, Cornish depicted the vehement objections to his bill — some voiced by law enforcement officials — as “a lot of hoopla.”

It’s the same people, the same arguments, used to oppose the state’s successful Personal Protection Act, or concealed carry, legislation a few years back, Cornish argued. “I think it’s a good bill,” Cornish said of his legislation. “A common sense bill,” he said.

Not everyone agreed.

Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom criticized the bill’s rebuttal presumption provision as creating a subjective rather than an objective standard in trying to determine motive.

The legislation lends itself to a “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality, he argued.

Is it right, Backstrom rhetorically asked, that someone will be able to shoot and kill an unarmed teenager breaking into their garage?

“I believe the answer to these questions should be ‘No,’” said Backstrom.

A Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association spokesman testified against provisions in the bill, as did Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association Executive Director Dennis Flaherty. “We’re frightened by it,” he said of the bill. Association members are very concerned about the reception police officers will receive when lawfully breaking down the door of a home in pursuit of suspects, Flaherty explained.

But Cornish warned all law enforcement officers do not oppose his bill.

Mankato Police Chief Todd Miller said he did not fear law abiding, armed citizens. “I didn’t see a carnage,” he said of the impact of broader self-defense laws in other states where he served as police chief, he explained. He didn’t feel the officers serving under him were threatened by these laws, Miller said.

But Miller indicated that life is uncertain.

“We can’t promise everything,” he said of outcomes should the legislation become law.

Cornish’s bill passed the committee on a 10-7 vote, and was advanced to the House Judiciary Committee.

“This bill sends a message to criminals,” said Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove.

But Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, found the rebuttal presumption provision in the bill nonsensical.

“How can you prove I don’t believe what I say I believe?” he asked.

Other provisions in the bill include the recognition of concealed carry gun permits issued in other states by Minnesota.

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