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MN House Committee Advances 2 Gun Bills After Public Hearing

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The Minnesota House of Representatives opened hearings Wednesday on two controversial gun bills that drew hundreds of people to the State Capitol. And shortly after noon, the committee advanced the bills.

They include one to allow Minnesota gun owners to carry their weapons in public without getting a permit, and another to expand the "Stand Your Ground" law.

Hundreds of thousands of legal gun owners already have a permit to carry their weapons in public, and supporters say the 14-year-old law hasn't made Minnesota the "Wild West."

"There was rhetoric that blood would be running in the streets, and there would be a shootout over parking spaces," Rob Doar, of the Gun Owners Caucus, said. "We've been down this road before, and the sky hasn't fallen."

The new law would allow gun owners to legally carry weapons in public without a permit. It generated emotional testimony, including from Richfield Lutheran Church pastor Rev. Rolf Olson, whose daughter was murdered answering a Craigslist ad.

"People who couldn't pass a criminal background check and have never learned how to handle a gun safely would be able to carry one in public," Olson said. "How would that protect public safety?"

At least two lawmakers at the hearing carried handguns themselves, including the chair of the Public Safety Committee Rep. Tony Cornish, who openly wore a 40-caliber Glock.

Others wore message t-shirts, buttons and lapel pins. The committee also heard a second bill relaxing the state's "Stand Your Ground" laws, removing the requirement to retreat before using deadly force.

"I believe firmly that self-defense is a human right," Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) said. He authored both gun bills. "It doesn't know anything about color, it doesn't know anything about geography. We each have an individual right to defend ourselves. "

Critics say the more lenient "Stand Your Ground" bill being considered in Minnesota is modeled after a Florida law made famous in the Trayvon Martin case, calling it a "Fear of Black People" law.

Shauntyll Allen, of Black Lives Matter St. Paul, wore a black baseball cap and a black sweatshirt with a hoodie, flipping it on to her heard while giving testimony.

"I'm a 43 year old educator, and when I put this hood up, I am feared," Allen said.

Many who testified against the measures had a personal connection to the issue, having lost a loved one to gun violence.

The Department of Public Safety reports that more than 71,000 Minnesotans got permits in 2016, a record.

The Department reports nearly 266,000 Minnesotans now have permits to carry a handgun in public. That's also a record.

Shortly after noon, the Minnesota House Committee advanced the bills.

Gov. Dayton has not said publicly whether or not he would sign these bills if they were passed by the legislature.

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