Editor’s note: On Monday, April 28, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law a major overhaul in the state’s handgun laws. The state House and Senate had approved the concealed carry bill and with the Governor’s signing, Minnesota became the 35th state to adopt a “shall-issue” law. The law will allow more Minnesotans age 21 or older to carry handguns after passing a background check and receiving mandatory training. A legislative study estimated that 90,000 residents of this state will probably get permits within the next three years. Since the new law requires county sheriffs to grant the permits to carry a concealed handgun to most law-abiding citizens who seek them, this writer interviewed Fillmore County Sheriff Jim Connolly to get his thoughts on it.

“My initial reaction to this new law is, what’s the need? Was there a public outcry by the citizens of Minnesota for this legislation? I don’t think so. The bottom line is a group of lobbyists who spent a lot of money got what they wanted and that’s what’s disappointing. Our legislators listened to the lobbyists. They didn’t listen to us. The four main law enforcement associations in the state, the Minnesota Police Chiefs’ Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, the Minnesota County Attorneys’ Association and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers’ Association were all against the bill. This was strictly politics,” Connolly began.

“To show you just how political this issue was, there were certain sheriffs in the state who spoke out against the bill. The lobbying groups pushing the bill spent quite a bit of money in an attempt to keep those sheriffs from getting re-elected by backing challengers who were in favor of the bill.

“It used to be up to the discretion of the police chief in a community whether to issue a permit to someone who asked for one. I’ve had requests from citizens for a permit. Most of the time it would be someone who was working as a security guard or something like that. But by putting this in the laps of the county sheriffs of the state, they have made this issue more political. County sheriffs are elected, police chiefs aren’t. There were several prominent police chiefs in the metro area who were against issuing permits. They wouldn’t issue them. I think that’s another reason why the new law states that county sheriffs are the ones to issue the permits.

“I have had many people come up to me and ask me what I thought of this new bill. They said they didn’t understand why our legislators spent time on this when there were more pressing issues, like the state budget, to address. The people I’ve spoken to are against it. They don’t see the need. They just shake their heads and wonder. And these are folks who have come up to me. It’s not like I’m going around and asking them. They are concerned.”

Connolly went on to point out that the state legislators made sure they protected themselves. “I think it’s interesting that the law states it is legal to carry a concealed gun into a city hall or a county courthouse, but not the state Capitol.”

Will the new law have much of an impact in Fillmore County? “I really don’t think so,” Connolly said. “We may have a few people who might think its macho to carry a gun, but it’s not going to be just coming in here and getting a permit. Everyone will be required to take a handgun training course, that will cost around $100 and then we will be charging another $100 for all the paperwork that will be involved in conducting a background check and issuing the permit. So it will take some time and there will be a cost involved.”

The sheriff wonders if people realize just how uncomfortable it is to carry a gun under their jackets or coats. “It isn’t very comfortable, I can tell you that. I’m thinking most people will end up carrying the guns in their vehicles.”

Proponents of the law point to states that already have the conceal-carry laws in place. According to statistics, those states have realized a slight reduction in violent crimes.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a change one way or the other here,” Connolly replied. “I can’t tell you the last time we had a citizen involved in an aggravated attack with a gun, but what concerns me is what happens if a person who has a permit and is carrying a gun is in a Kwik Trip that gets robbed at gunpoint. Can they pull their gun out and shoot that robber? No, not unless they are threatened with deadly force. If shots are fired, can an innocent bystander be hit or killed? That’s one of my concerns.

“Some people feel that if they have a gun and pull that gun when being confronted by someone with a gun, the criminal will drop his gun and run,” Connolly continued. “I don’t see that happening, but just the opposite. If a criminal has a gun and you try to pull yours, the chances of you getting shot are much greater.

“I can live with this new law. I really don’t think it’s going to change things in Fillmore County that much. But I don’t like the way it came about. I don’t think our local legislators had the pulse of their constituents when they passed it. I haven’t heard anyone say that they thought it was a good idea.”