New law lets prosecutors carry guns
ST. PAUL - Prosecutors are happy to now have the same rights of other Minnesotans to carry guns.
"Whether they need it or not, it is their right," said Rice County Attorney Paul Baumaster, president of the Minnesota County Attorneys' Association.
However, before Gov. Mark Dayton signed a new law earlier this week, state law banned county attorneys and other public workers from carrying guns. The new law, crafted by Rep. Tony Cornish of Good Thunder and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria, easily passed the House and Senate to give county attorneys and their assistants the freedom to carry guns like others in the state.
"Prosecutors are threatened on a weekly, if not daily, basis," Baumaster said.
It is tough to go to work, he added, when a prosecutor wonders each morning "who's going to shoot me today?"
Judges still will decide whether prosecutors may take weapons into courtrooms and in some cases into courthouses.
Democrat Dayton told Republican Cornish during a Wednesday ceremonial bill signing that prosecutors "will be safer because of your leadership." Ingebrigtsen was not there.
Baumaster said that people charged with crimes often blame prosecutors for penalties they receive and think "if if the prosecutor is gone, my life would be better."
Cornish said the bill was in the works, at the request of the county attorneys' group, when County Attorney Tim Scannell and two others were shot in the Cook County Courthouse last December.
Baumaster said the Cook County incident helped drive home the dangers prosecutors face and helped convince lawmakers the new law was needed.
Chris Rovney, an assistant Blue Earth County attorney, said a defendant in a case he prosecuted once tried to hire a hit man to kill him. Fortunately for Rovney, the person he talked to was a police informant and things ended quickly for the defendant.
"I'm not a very big gun guy," he said, but like other prosecutors added that when needed it is important to have a way to defend himself.
"It gave us parity with almost everyone else in the state," Rovney said.
Rovney's boss, Ross Arneson, said he expects prosecutors to carry weapons only if they face a "current safety threat. I don't think most people will do it on a routine basis.
None of the eight prosecutors at the signing ceremony said they planned to carry a gun, but neither did they rule it out.
Cornish and county attorneys said they would like to go another step by increasing the penalties for attacking a prosecutor.