ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers say they are trying to make the Capitol safer after the shooting of an Arizona Congresswoman.
In fact, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has appointed a bipartisan security committee to review security at the Capitol and report back to him ASAP.
But hundreds of people are allowed to walk freely into state buildings — even the legislature and the governor’s office — carrying weapons.
Without getting checked.
Minnesota gun laws allow permit holders to carry weapons almost anywhere in public, after they have taken classes in gun proficiency. But at the 35 buildings that comprise the State Capitol complex in St. Paul, special rules apply. Permit holders are required to notify public safety officials before they enter.
It’s a system that allows hundreds of people to wear handguns; mixing with lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists.
Documents obtained by WCCO 4 News show 391 people since 2005 have notified security of their intention to carry a weapon at the Capitol complex.
That’s nearly two guns for every one of Minnesota’s 201 legislators.
“That’s kind of surprising,” said Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul.
Hansen is part of the special Capitol Security Committee that inspected the list of gun carriers at the Capitol.
Like many lawmakers, he was unaware of how many Minnesotans bring guns to the Capitol.
“This is kind of surprising, and there are quite a few — relatively recent,” said Hansen.
In fact, in the three weeks since the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, 25 more people registered to carry a gun at the Capitol complex, where 14,000 employees work.
That includes one citizen who made it known he’ll be wearing a gun when he visits his state representative.
“I’m coming down to the State Capitol to meet with my State Representative in the future,” writes one unidentified gun permit holder to the State Department of Public Safety on Jan. 31. “I would like to be able to use my permit to carry a pistol.”
The Minnesota State Patrol, which oversees Capitol security, said the increase in guns at the state’s most visible landmark has not compromised safety.
“It’s a very safe place to be,” said State Patrol Capt. Matt Langer. ”And that’s proven in our history, and we believe that will be the case in the future. And we haven’t had cases where it’s been a problem.”
Capitol security has the names on file of everyone who carries a weapon in Capitol buildings. But no one else knows, including fellow workers.
The information is private under state law; identifying information is blacked out on the notification letters provided to WCCO-TV.
But not everyone follows the rules.
At a Tea Party rally last year, several protesters openly carried guns, saying they were unaware of the law requiring disclosure.
“It’s my constitutional right,” said one.
For many lawmakers, permit holders who follow the rules when they bring guns to the Capitol aren’t a problem: It’s the gun carriers who do not.
“What are the threats here at the Capitol?” asked Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, who is a member of the Capitol Security Committee.
“What are our vulnerabilities? What are the things we can do to mitigate that?” asked Woodard. “And if we come to the conclusion that it is a legitimate threat and that we’re vulnerable in that area, then we’ll do some mitigation steps to make sure we’re safer.”
Capitol security offices keep a file with the names of gun permit holders who notify them they’ll be carrying a weapon, but they do not know how many work at the Capitol every day. Permit holders aren’t required to tell the Minnesota Department of Public Safety where they work.