New bill would prevent cities from disarming police departments

A state lawmaker is looking to make sure police officers will always be able to carry a gun after several comments made by a fellow legislator, proposing a bill to prohibit municipalities and police departments in Minnesota from ever being able to disarm law enforcement.

State Rep. Raymond Dehn was a candidate for Minneapolis mayor last year when he floated a suggestion that some police officers may not have to carry guns at all times, though at least one former officer in the state legislature is not buying it.

Though Dehn ultimately did not win that election, Rep. Matt Grossel, R-Clearbrook responded to the comments by proposing this week's bill. It's a topic that's close to his heart after being shot in the line of duty 17 years ago.

"Fortunately we had the tools to stop the threat," he said at a committee hearing on the bill Thursday. "Common sense would tell you that you do not disarm your police force."

In the hearing, Dehn pushed back against the bill as needlessly restrictive, asking why a police officer should not have the choice to voluntarily give up their firearms in certain situations. 

Grossel, for his part, said there are no such situations that he could think of.

"Rep. Dehn, I don't why a peace officer would choose not to go out into the field without all the tools at their disposal, to serve the public at the best of their ability," he said.

A second bill up for debate Thursday would up the penalty for assaulting an officer from a gross misdemeanor to a felony, with a sentence of up to two years and a $4,000 fine. Another former officer in the legislature and author of the bill, Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, invoked the multiple times he said he had been assaulted over a 27-year law enforcement career.

"[Suspects] were literally trying to kill me and my partner," he said. "[They] could not be charged with that." 

Both bills were passed Thursday by the Public Safety committee and will be referred to other committees.