A gun bill advances, but this one aimed at police power

Cities and county officials could soon be legally barred from ordering peace officers to disarm even though there’s no indication that’s happening.

Rep. Matt Grossell’s bill got through the House Public Safety and Security Policy Committee Thursday. The first-term Republican from Clearbrook told of being shot 17 years ago just a month into his time as a police officer.

“I was confronted by a man who tried to kill me,” Grossell said. “He stuck the gun in my face about three inches from my nose and was ready to squeeze the trigger. I grabbed the weapon, the first round went by my ear. I still have ringing in that ear to this day. The second round went through my right arm, and shattered by humerus.”

Grossell said his partner shot and killed the suspect. He said officers need guns to protect themselves or the public whether they’re on duty or off.

His bill is a response to last year’s Minneapolis mayoral campaign when a leading candidate, DFL Rep.  Ray Dehn, suggested disarming some officers.

The bill would bar the removal of guns from officers in good standing unless they are under investigation, subject to disciplinary action or if other laws apply to a situation.

Dehn was on the committee, but a recorded vote wasn’t taken.

“There are many countries throughout the world where officers don’t carry guns. They carry other uses of force for situations they may come across. I know the conversation in the United States is different,” Dehn said, adding, “There’s nuance to this conversation.”

Dehn asked Grossell if the bill would prohibit officers from voluntarily setting their gun aside for events they attend. The bill leaves that up to individual officers, though former police officers on the committee said they didn’t envision circumstances where that would happen.

Meanwhile, the same committee backed another bill that makes it a felony to physically assault a police officer. Violators could face up to two years in prison and be fined $4,000. Currently the offense is a gross misdemeanor.

Committee Chairman Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, said he was assaulted a few times while on duty as an officer in Braham but the charges were limited because he didn’t sustain a major injury.

“The person that assaults a police officer will generally assault anybody,” Johnson said. “When they assault a peace officer, usually the peace officer is in a fight for his life.”

Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, said he agrees with the goal but worries that treating all actions against officers as felony-level assault, regardless of injury, it might cause more harm to them.

“I just have the concern that if somebody is inclined to shove or kick at or whatever at an officer they might say they might as well cause some harm because it is going to be the same penalty either way,” Pinto said.

Both bills have at least one more committee stop before reaching votes on the floor.