MARSHALL - Marshall Police Chief Rob Yant considers himself on the fence concerning legislation that passed the House on Wednesday which would expand situations where Minnesota residents can use deadly force.
While the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association has taken a strong position against the legislation because of how the bill would expand the potential to use deadly force, Yant is hedging a bit on the issue.
"I guess I'm not sure where I'm at," Yant said. "I do have concerns because deadly force is a serious issue. It's authorized if someone breaks into your home but (the new legislation) has a high degree of accountability. I think what we have now is a balance and we need to continue to have a balance between the accountability for the use of deadly force and being able to protect yourself."
The House approved the bill in an 85-47 vote Wednesday.
"There's a lot of support for this in rural areas," said District 22 Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton. "For our contacts, there are some in law enforcement who are opposed to it - county attorneys, police - many are opposed to it, but many favor it also."
Magnus supports the bill because it could potentially be a life-or-death difference-maker, especially during an incident in a remote, rural area.
"These farms are fewer and farther between and even in small towns, by the time law enforcement gets to a home in the country, things could be all over with," he said.
State law already allows a person to defend his or her home or dwelling with deadly force; this bill would widen the definition of dwelling to include overnight accommodations, cars, tents and boats. The bill also creates a presumption that people who use deadly force in these cases believe they are threatened with harm, and eliminates an obligation in current law to retreat from such situations.
The Senate added a provision that does not allow people to use deadly force if they believe the person entering their property is a police officer.
Yant said there are two main reasons he's concerned about giving people more freedom to use a firearm. He said emotions play a large role in certain instances and can lead people to overreact - the "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality. He also worries about the increased potential for firearms to be stolen or lost if residents were allowed to use deadly force in their boat or in a tent.
"I think the chance of being confronted in a life-threatening instance on a boat are probably pretty rare," he said. "Dealing with your boat and some of the other areas, will a firearm be used inappropriately? It could be stolen or get lost."
On the other hand, Yant said, in rural Minnesota where response time comes into play, he's not against the notion of letting people who live in the country forcefully use a firearm in a building, other than their home, on their property if the need arises.
"If you have a farmer and someone is trying to break into an outbuilding he's in - on a farmstead you might not have that quick response (from law enforcement)," he said. "I'm supportive of that aspect of it, but I do have concerns. I'm normally not this much on the fence, but it could be useful for us in a rural community. There's more remoteness out here, but I don't think you could set up legislation to differentiate between (rural and metro areas). I think that's why there are two different views on the same issue."
District 20B Rep. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, said gun owners should be given the benefit of the doubt and are aware of the responsibility that comes with owning a firearm.
"I heard the argument of a gun being lost or stolen, but I would also like to give people some credit," said Koenen, who supported the bill. "There's a responsibility that comes with gun ownership, and I think most people recognize that responsibility. For those who are up to no good, real criminals, somebody who intends to use a gun unlawfully, they always seem to be able to get ahold of a gun no matter what."
Koenen's DFL colleague District 20A Rep. Andrew Falk of Murdock voted against the bill, calling it "poorly drafted" and "too broadreaching."
"I support people's right to defend themselves," he said, "but you have to make sure to get the language right and that bills are put together in a way not to cause additional problems."
Yant said the state of Minnesota currently has a strong carry permit process and would like to see some standardization that recognizes states that have a process that works.
Gov. Mark Dayton has not said if he will veto the bill.