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Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.


Packing Heat In Minnesota  | e-mail post

Here in Minnesota last year we passed a new law [Statute Text] [Description] making it dramatically easier to get a concealed weapon permit. Minnesota now has what is referred to as a "will issue" policy. This eliminates virtually any opportunity for law enforcement officers to use their discretion about who has a legitimate need for, or should otherwise be issued, a concealed weapon permit. After passage of this law, 15,677 conceal weapon permits were issued in Minnesota between May 28, 2003 and Dex 31, 2003. That's about a 50% increase from either of the the two prior years in terms of the number of concealed weapons permits outstanding.

BTW, no matter where you live, if carrying a concealed weapon is of interest to you (or you want to find out just how easy it is to get one where you live) a website, Packing.org, follows these things quite closely. In their own words, Packing.org is "a great place to find out how to legally carry a concealed weapon, if it is possible in your state." Gotta love the internet.

I remember at the time being quite annoyed with not just the law, but the importance that the Republican leadership in Minnesota put on relaxing concealed carry controls; it was a major agenda item for the new Republican Governer, Tim Pawlenty. Our former Governor, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, had a slightly different attititude about gun control: "I’m all for gun control, I just define it a little differently. If you can put 2 rounds into the same hole from 25 meters, that’s gun control!" You can get other bits of wit and wisdom(?) from Jesse's book, I Ain't Got Time to Bleed: Reworking the Body Politic from the Bottom Up.

In any event, while I was unhappy with the law, I wasn't in much position to do anything about it; I didn't really have any legal standing. Some churches felt they did, however. I can understand this. Strictly speaking, the law says that even a Quaker church can't prohibit the carrying of guns in their parking lot or on their grounds (although they could prohibit them inside the church, using signage that conforms to the required statutory notification). A consortium of the top-tier law firms in Minneapolis took on the case pro bono.

One aside about the law firms: Dorsey & Whitney, Faegre & Benson, Fredrikson & Byron, Lindquist & Vennum, and Mansfield Tanick & Cohen represented the nonprofit and religious plaintiffs in this case (the City of Minneapolis also joined the suit as a plaintiff). These firms are primarily corporate law firms, not John Edwards-esque trial lawyers who are always "fighting for the little guy," as they seem fond of positioning themselves. I found it interesting that with no money actually at stake in a victory to entice those "socially-minded" attorneys who want to sue gun makers, McDonalds or the tobacco industry, the "little guys" in this case relied on the establishment lawyers to fight their case for them.

District Judge John T. Finley actually invalidated the law [PDF of Order from Faegre & Benson's website] on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. According to Article IV Section 17 of the Minnesota Constitution: "No law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title." The funny thing is I've lived in Minnesota almost 13 years and was not aware of this prohibition. It struck me as immediately odd when I heard about the decision, as one frequently hears of amedments getting tacked onto bills in the Minnesota legislature, the same as one hears about in Congress. In a civics class long ago, I learned these were called "rider" amendments, and the U.S. Senate still seems to define them as the "informal term for a nongermane amendment."

Obviously, I was not alone in my confusion, as there are already a couple of planned lawsuits to challenge some recent budget bills that lumped together a variety of issues. There is recent precedent for this decision; in 2000 the Minnesota Supreme Court shot down a wage protection component of a much broader 1997 tax bill. I must have missed the news at the time, but I had an awful lot going on in 2000. For completists or researchers the case was Associated Builders and Contractors et al. v. Ventura, et al. (610 NW 2d 293 (Minn. 2000)).

In a twist of irony, you can read the opinion of our current Governor, Tim Pawlenty, the fountainhead of relaxed concealed carry rules, on the Associated Builders case. I found his last paragaph to be particularly humorous in light of the current situation:
After reviewing prior decisions regarding Article IV, Section 17 that tended to pay great deference to the Legislature, the Court in Associated Builders finally drew a line the Legislature should heed. The balance between different branches of government in our democracy is delicate, and the Court gave the Legislature a gentle nudge in Associated Builders. We may hope that the Legislature will conduct itself in a manner that is clearly more consistent with constitutional principles in the future. If not, the Court’s gentle nudge may need to become a little firmer.
Hopefully the nudge Finley gave was firm enough. The big difference here is that in Associated Builders, the portion of the law being surgically removed from the tax bill was one that Republicans would oppose (higher wage requirements for labor on certain types of government contracts).

The whole situation seems to have many Republicans in a tizzy. I've read some factually-errant and fallaciously-reasoned criticism of the decision (or at least of the judge) by those defenders of the second amendment right to pack heat. It is Republicans who are now running to court to challenge components of other laws on this ground.

Just yesterday, the Minnesota AG, Mike Hatch, went to court to both appeal the judge's ruling as well as request a stay on Finley's decision until the higher courts rule. While I am doubtful that Hatch is a big fan of relaxed concealed carry rules, it is his responsiblity as the Attorney General to properly represent the state. It should be an interesting case. Not to mention, there is a legitimate need to have an authoritative decision on the issue so local law enforcement knows how to handle concealed weapons permits.

Such nongermane amendments seem to often be key tools in manipulating (subverting?) both the legislative process as well voter understanding of their representative's positions on specific issues. I am deeply ambivalent about this issue.

On one hand, I feel that single-issue or limited-scope legislation would provide a higher level of accountability for our elected officials. It would not be possible to "grudgingly vote for" something because it is attached to otherwise desirable legislation. If your guy voted for something, you know he or she is in favor of it. It would offer the benefit to the official of never having to defend a vote in favor of something they opposed and it would offer the voter a great deal more clarity about where an official truly stands on an issue.

On the other hand, I am both a political elitist and a pragmatist (remember, I am a cynic, albeit a hopeful one). Coupling otherwise nongermane legislative items is a very effective facilitator of political horsetrading. Because an entire bill gets voted up or down, linking multiple items into a single bill assures the passage of particular pieces of legislation in a way that voting for two independent bills would not. Can you imagine:
Tom DeLay: No, seriously Nancy, if you bring us the votes for this federal death penalty for abortionists bill, we've got your back on raising the minimum wage to $60 an hour.

Nancy Pelosi: Are you sure you guys?

Roy Blunt: Nancy, don't sweat it, we've got everything lined up. You're golden. We'll bring a vote on the death penalty bill this morning, and bring a vote on the minimum wage this afternoon.

Nancy Pelosi: OK, fine, I'll make it happen on our side.

[Later....]

Nancy Pelosi: Hey, what the Hell, Tom? I got you your votes, and you guys all voted against the minimum wage hike.

Tom DeLay: Psyche!
This is even funnier to me if I picture Charlie Brown and Lucy having their dialog about whether or not she will pull the football away right as Charlie Brown kicks it.

All kidding aside, though, it would be very difficult to get a lot of legislation passed if things weren't combined into bills so muddled that it is unlikely any single legislator would vote entirely in favor of or against the individual elements of the legislation. Such is our imperfect system.

That's my pragmatic side. My political elitist side feels like the lack of accountability might be a good thing. There's a lot of legislation which, while desirable, might gore too many political oxen. Nongermane amendments allow socially necessary but politically dangerous legislation to make it through the system. Now, it doesn't seem to me that this happens much in practice, but it does seem like a potentially desirable side effect.

Overall, while I am flatly opposed to relaxed conceled carry standards here in Minnesota, I am undecided on how this case is playing out in the courts. It should be interesting in any event.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Tuesday, July 20, 2004
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