The first of two meetings at Minnesota's Capitol took place Wednesday to review security and gun regulations within the building and surrounding areas.
The Advisory Committee on Capitol Security will hold a second hearing featuring public testimony next week. Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon is set to lead the panel's review. Law enforcement and state officials will also take part in the discussion.
Currently, anyone with a proper permit can carry a firearm in the building after notifying designated Capitol staff. Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul) said his research showed about a dozen other states allow firearms at their state Capitol buildings, meaning Minnesota is in the minority.
Following last session's unsuccessful gun legislation, gun rights advocates are poised to thwart a move to ban guns from the premises and are asking advocates to wear maroon shirts to present a united front. Last session, some showed up with guns holstered to their hips.
Although there has never been an incident and the display was perfectly legal, it made a lot of people uneasy.
"There were many members of our group who were too scared to come because there were so many people who were carrying weapons," Gary Thompson told FOX 9 News.
Paymar admits he also felt intimidated and that he is concerned about the effects of having guns at the Capitol when controversial topics are up for debate.
"I'm more concerned about the staff, about the citizens that come in to testify on volatile issues that concern them," he explained. "If they feel intimidated, I feel it's problematic."
Maj. Bob Meyerson, of the Minnesota State Patrol, said there are currently 832 people who have requested to carry a handgun at the Capitol. One of those people is Leslie Henchle.
"If I could not carry to the Capitol, I could not feel safe walking back to my vehicle," Henchle told FOX 9 News. "I'm responsible for my own safety. Therefore, I carry."
The very prospect of banning handguns led to a packed hearing full of advocates from the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, but the committee does not have power to change existing law.
Those who support tighter gun regulations say the Capitol should be further protected from potential gun violence. Solon cautioned the Capitol security committee by adding Minnesota can't simply wait for a gun violence incident to occur at the Capitol before taking action.
"My intention is not to do anything on a knee-jerk reaction," Prettner said regarding a potential firearm ban.
According to Capt. Shelly Schtrofer, the new Minnesota Capitol Security Chief, a current $1.25 million budget will allow her to hire six new troopers to bolster security at the Capitol.
The first meeting will feature a policy overview of current weapon laws at the Capitol as well as surrounding buildings.
"I hope the contentiousness of this issue doesn't prevent us from talking it through," Rep. Paymar said.
Follow Tim Blotz on Twitter for the latest from the meeting: https://twitter.com/TimBlotzFOX9