Despite Rep. Michael Paymar’s repeated attempts to ban firearms from the Minnesota State Capitol, the Advisory Committee on Capitol Area Security last week only approved a watered-down safety recommendation that barely touched on gun security in the Capitol complex.
Instead of a ban on weapons at the Capitol, the committee voted 4-2 to request a modest increase in the number of State Troopers and non-sworn security officers on duty at the Capitol. The committee also voted 3-2 to approve a slight change in the firearm notification process. That recommendation will require legal gun carriers to provide their name, date of birth, expiration date of their gun permit and contact information in order to bring a firearm inside Capitol grounds.
Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lori Gildea abstained on that vote, her second abstention while serving on the security committee. She said she abstained in case any gun-related measures come before her and the high court, but some Capitol observers have wondered quietly whether she should serve on the committee if she is unable to vote on its proposals. Ironically, the nearby state courts building, where the Supreme Court sits, does not allow weapons inside the building.
Calling the committee’s discussions “frustrating” due to the lack of support for a gun ban, Paymar said the proposed recommendations were, “not getting us to the place of ensuring that the Capitol and the Capitol complex are safe.”
Paymar, a St. Paul DFLer who is not seeking re-election next November, has been the chief proponent of tighter gun violence measures at the Capitol but has been unable to win the support of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and other DFL leaders. The nine-term lawmaker warned last fall that unless gun safety at the Capitol is increased, a tragedy may happen.
“How many people have to die, how many tragedies have to happen before politicians get some spine,” he asked then. “People have to get some courage on this issue. If something were to happen and you didn’t act to prevent it, I don’t know how you look at yourself in the mirror the next day.”
At last week’s meeting, Paymar criticized the Minnesota Department of Public Safety for a lack of leadership on the issue. Minnesota is one of only a dozen states that allow gun owners to bring their weapons into the Capitol.
“I’m fine having a discussion about it,” Paymar said. “But you’d think you’d get a little bit of leadership from the Department (of Public Safety) saying, ‘This is what we recommend based on all the information before us,’ and then let us make the political decision to make recommendations to the Legislature.”
Paymar said the Capitol security committee was ignoring the testimony of safety experts and moving forward without all the facts.
“I’m concerned that we did not address firearms… We tinkered around with permit holders coming into the Capitol building … but quite frankly, I have said before that we should be banning firearms in this building.”
Paymar tried several times before to introduce legislation prohibiting personal firearms in the Capitol complex but his attempts for stricter safety regulations were drowned-out by the gun-rights community. In addition, the approval for a minor modification in the Capitol’s firearm notification process only slightly improved a loosely regulated gun monitoring system.
The members of the Advisory Committee include Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, Gildea, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, Sen. Ann Rest, Rep. Kelby Woodard and Paymar. Paymar and Rest, saying the measure did not go far enough, were on the short side of the 4-2 vote. Ingebrigsten, a Republican and former county sheriff, mocked their vote, saying it went against their stated support for stricter gun regulations.
“If you vote against it, you’re voting against making the Capitol safer,” Ingebrigtsen said to Rest, who called the current safety suggestions “inadequate” and “falling short.”
Responding, Rest said, “I do not accept Sen. Ingebrigtsen’s characterization of my vote.”
Throughout the meeting, Paymar insisted a security breach could happen at any time and that additional monitoring at the entrances and exits, as well as a general firearm ban, must be implemented
“As people keep saying, ‘We haven’t had a problem yet’ and that’s the component here that scares me. I don’t want to wait until we have an incident to say we should have acted when we have an opportunity to act,” Paymar said shortly before the vote.
Video of the full meeting of the Advisory Committee on Capitol Area Security is above.