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Paynesville Press - July 9, 2003

Handgun permits in Kandiyohi, Stearns increase under new law

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

Since the end of May, when the new handgun law - approved by the Minnesota Legislature this session - took effect, permits in Kandiyohi and Stearns County have risen drastically.

Last year, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office issued 122 handgun permits, and the Paynesville Police Department issued two. Since the new law took effect just over a month ago, the Stearns County Sheriff's Department has issued 69 permits and applications are still coming in, said Captain Pam Jensen. At the current rate, 828 permits could be issued during the next year, over six times as many as were issued a year ago.

In Kandiyohi County, 46 permits were issued by the sheriff and the Willmar Police Department last year. In a month under the new law, 53 permits were issued, and more applicants are waiting to get training, said Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog. At that rate, Kandiyohi County would issue 636 handgun permits in the next year, 12 times more than last year.

In spite of an increase in permits statewide, Paynesville Police Chief Kent Kortlever doesn't believe there will be a large increase in the number of permit holders in Paynesville. Kortlever has only had a few inquiries about permit requirements and only one business owner has inquired about posting requirements.

Dave Peschong, a member of the Paynesville City Council who is also a Stearns County Sheriff's Deputy, shares Kortlever's opinion. One thing he believes that will keep the number of permits down locally is the cost of getting one. The fee for a permit is $100 in Stearns County, and a certified instructor could charge several hundred dollars or more for training, he said.

Peschong also attributes the rise in permits more to the publicity that the new law has gotten than to the actual changes in the law.

The new law gives any resident without a history of violent crime or mental illness the right to carry a handgun after completing a training course and obtaining a permit. Under the old handgun law, residents had to prove a need to carry a weapon (such as a specific threat or handling large amounts of money for work).

The new law raised the age of those eligible to obtain a permit to carry a weapon from 18 to 21 and shifted the responsibility for issuing permits strictly to county sheriffs, where before local police departments also could issue permits. Information from local law enforcement is still used in background checks. This is important because local police officers are likely to know an applicant's background, said Hartog.

The new law does give businesses and residents the right to refuse to allow weapons on their premises, an issue that was not addressed in the old law. As with the old law, guns are prohibited in schools and on school property, but for the first time, the new law also prohibits weapons at daycare facilities when children are present.

State and city governments, however, are not allowed to prohibit weapons on their premises, except in courtrooms. Weapons must be allowed in city hall, the public library, or any other government facility. Government employees can be prohibited from carrying weapons at work, though.

In the past, few restrictions were placed on where weapons could be carried in Minnesota, but now businesses as well as homeowners and renters have the right to forbid weapons. Business owners can post signs at each entrance forbidding weapons. However, they must also verbally notify all customers of their policy forbidding weapons.

Kortlever hasn't observed any "weapons prohibited" signs posted at any downtown Paynesville businesses, and according to Jensen signs are scarce throughout the county and are common only among certain types of businesses, such as banks and bars.

Steve McCorquodale, manager of Paynesville Fleet Supply, said he may ban weapons in the store, but Bert Stanley, owner of Corner Drug, has no intention of imposing a ban on weapons.

Bar owners may see things differently, however. While the old law prohibited alcohol consumption while carrying a weapon, said Hartog, the new law prohibits carrying a weapon if a permit holder has a blood alcohol of 0.04 or higher, the equivalent of one or two drinks for most people. "Any time you mix booze with driving or weapons, it's always dangerous," said Hartog.

Cindy Hess, owner of the Sportsmen's Den in Lake Henry, plans to prohibit guns at her bar, but Don Driggs, owner of the County Line Bar in Regal, isn't sure how the law applies to his business, specifically whether he can ban guns during Cornstalk, an outdoor country musical festival. While businesses can ban guns on most of their property, guns must be allowed in parking lots.

How the law affects the campground at Cornstalk is unclear. Jensen believes campgrounds can ban weapons, but Hartog, who has jurisdiction in Regal, believes the law gives permit holders the right to have weapons in campgrounds.

Minnesota's "shall issue" handgun law, also known as "conceal and carry", was passed by the Legislature and was signed into law in April. Of local legislators, Senator Steve Dille (R-Dassel), Senator Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville), Representative Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport), Representative Doug Stang (R-Cold Spring), and Representative Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) voted for the legislation. Senator Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar) voted against it.

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