By Pat Kessler

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Less than two months after a Minnesota prosecutor was shot by a defendant in a Grand Marais courthouse, a legislative committee advanced two bills designed to beef up security for county attorneys, including one that would let prosecutors carry guns.

The star witness at Thursday’s House public safety committee hearing was Tim Scannell, the Cook County attorney who was shot three times Dec. 15 by the man he had just successfully prosecuted in a criminal sexual conduct case. Scannell showed no outward sign of his injuries as he took his seat to address the committee.

“When you attack a prosecutor, you are not just attacking an ordinary citizen,” Scannell testified. “You are making a political statement that the charges against you are, that the crime the state believes you have committed, should somehow be nullified. I think that’s what occurred in my situation.”

Scannell testified only on behalf of a bill that would enhance criminal penalties for assaulting or killing a prosecutor, allowing a defendant to be charged with first-degree murder.

Of the gun bill, Scannell said he was “not a gun person” and was unlikely to carry one if it becomes law. But he said he supports the legislation, which would exempt county attorneys from a statute that prohibits local government employees from carrying firearms.

“I don’t particularly like the idea that local government officials can’t carry weapons when other citizens can,” he said.

The chief sponsor of the bills, Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, brought in several other attorneys to testify in favor of the firearms bill.

Chris Rovney, an assistant county attorney in Blue Earth County, recalled an incident with a drug dealer he was prosecuting who had conspired to shoot and kill him.

“We’re not asking for any greater rights than any other citizen in the state of Minnesota has,” Rovney said. Later, he added: “By virtue of what we do for a living, we’re put in an elevated zone of danger.”

Several committee members, including Rep. Linda Slocum, DFL-Richfield, said they were concerned the bill would create confusion about bringing a gun into a courthouse and into the courtroom itself, where judicial order prohibits firearms.

Heather Martens, whose group Protect Minnesota works to stem gun violence, also worried that bill’s language did not explicitly say whether county attorneys would be allowed to carry guns into courtrooms.

Cornish explained that the bill would not affect the no-guns rule in courtrooms, and that courthouses would decide individually where else within the courthouse guns would be allowed.

Martens also said that pistol-packing prosecutors could offer a target for defendants desperate enough to grab for their weapon.

“Sometimes it happens that someone loses control of their gun, guns have been grabbed away from bailiffs,” Martens said in an interview after testimony. “The prosecutor is going to be a lot more distracted in the courtroom than the bailiff.”

Committee members later said they interpreted the bill as not allowing for guns in courtrooms and passed the bill without amendment to clarify language.

Cornish said he expects both bills to head to the full House for a floor vote.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (19)
  1. dan says:

    I am all for gun rights but having a brief case attorney carrying a gun is a bit scary to me. How do you keep it safe enough that a criminal in court doesnt get ahold of it, yet accessible enough for the atty to use in case there is a problem in court?

  2. stung4ever says:

    As long as the prosecutors are licensed to carry a gun, I’ve got no problem with this.

    It’s no different than allowing bailiffs to be armed.

    1. ringo says:

      Maybe you should consider proper training……like the bailiffs……it is different,

  3. right wing inbred billyhill says:

    bang bang aynt gunz grate?

    1. elitist liberal snob says:

      I think you meant, aren’t guns great. Well no, they are very bad indeed. They jump out of their holsters and shoot people unprovoked. That’s why we need to put liberals in charge to protect us all. Like in D.C. where they’ve had a hand gun ban for more than 30 years, but had one of the highest murder rates by guns in the country. You see we liberals don’t care if our laws help anyone. We just want everyone to know how intelligent we are, and how much more we care than you stupid hillbillies.

  4. inbred republican says:

    aynt gunz grate?

  5. Kevin says:


    How is a prosecutor’s life any more valuable than anyone else’s life? If you are going to let a prosecutor carry a weapon into court, then everyone should be allowed to carry a weapon into court to protect their own life!

    This is yet another example of how government matures in a society. Eventually all laws are made to protect the governing class.

    1. MN Cop says:

      Most other people don’t become a target because of their job…

  6. Sam says:

    How would carrying a pistol have allowed this prosecutor to defend himself? The court’s security obviously missed the gun, and none of the guards/bailiffs had a chance to shoot the criminal, why would the prosecutor have had time to do so?

    There are cases where firearms are definitely useful for defense, but in general, they will not protect you from being hurt by someone determined to cause you injury, since your attacker is very likely to have a weapon out before you realize you’re in trouble.

    1. Arthur Bork says:

      Sam, you hit the nail right on the head. It is ALREADY illegal to have even a pocket knife on your person while in any/every courtroom in the USA.

      How is allowing prosecutors to carry a concealed weapon in courtrooms going to keep anyone else from bringing a gun into a courtroom?

  7. BobW says:

    In the Army, I spent five days at the range learning to fire and clean my weapon. To maximize that time, we simply lived there in pup tents. On the sixth day we finally fired for qualification.

    At a state law enforcement academy, I spent another five days at the range, supplemented by classroom instruction, shoot/don’t shoot practica and the FBI Academy’s “Nightmare Alley.” As our dorm was no more than a half mile away, we st least ate and slept indoors and could go off-grounds for an evening. After the Academy, my agency required each officer to qualify – not just send bullets downrange – quarterly. When the budget allowed, that became monthly.

    If prosecutors – and, for that matter, defense lawyers and judges – are willing to go through that kind of training and requalification, fine.

  8. Commonsense says:

    Without proper training I see this as an accident waiting to happen and additional lawsuits against the county.

  9. Deputy Dog says:

    Are guns, and lawsuits cheaper than metal detectors?

  10. On board IF says:

    Train ’em and let ’em carry provided one thing – they can blow the perp’s brains/heart out in a single shot. Range time is critical.
    That is a true win-win for all

  11. Meh says:

    ZOMG!!! Another example of a knee jerk reaction to a problem that does not exist!!!!

  12. Norm says:

    I work at a small court house in Wisconsin We have one full time Court Security Officer.We recently installed security cameras in our court house. It took us six years to finally get them in our county budget. The walk through metal detector we had hoped for was taken out of this years budget by admin. Lack of money. Most small jurisdictions suffer from the same 2 problems: lack of funds and the “it will never happen here” mentality. Of course when something does happen and someone is hurt or killed then the funds are found. A proactive approach is always better than a reactive approach. Courts and Court houses are places where usually normal folks become highly emotional and will do things they would not think of doing elsewhere. A good security system run by well trained sworn officers is far better and cheaper than funerals and lawsuits.

  13. Murph says:

    It’s a great idea,eliminate the middlemen who get all the bucks the lawyers,judges,jury,prison guards.Just arm prosecutors and let ’em hunt those bad streets of Moneyapolis! Think of all the savings.What a kool idea.Finally the politicians get it right and…cheap at the price! What a good deal!

  14. Arthur Bork says:

    How about just posting two FULL-TIME armed guards on either side of a metal detector placed at the access/entry point for the courtrooms? Oh, right, that would simply “cost too much money” — plus it’s just makes far too much sense to do.

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