By Derrick Knutson—
A bill signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton April 11 allows the state’s county attorneys and assistant county attorneys to carry concealed weapons while at work, but none of Chisago County’s lawyers are currently exercising the option.
County Attorney Janet Reiter said she took an informal survey of her staff shortly after the legislation was signed, and none of the lawyers were interested at that time in applying for conceal-and-carry permits.
However, she said attorneys could become interested in carrying and subsequently apply for a permit to do so at any point, now that the law allows it.
“It certainly is a matter of personal preference,” she said. “We all come into this job and this role with a sense of a threat. There is a recognition that what we do puts us in the spotlight and draws attention from individuals who would want to do us harm.”
She added, “Each of us has to make a personal decision about whether or not to carry a weapon. Nobody on (Chisago County) staff has a permit to carry, but now at least they have that option, should a need arise.”
Reiter noted weapons are not allowed on the third floor of the Chisago County Government Center where the county’s courtrooms are located.
Blue Earth attorney spearheads effort
Blue Earth County Attorney Ross Arneson started the conceal-and-carry effort in order to allow county employees to carry weapons while at work in 2007, after it was proven a man being prosecuted in the county tried to hire a hit man to kill an assistant county attorney, a judge and a police officer.
The proposal didn’t gain much traction statewide because of the opposition from police departments, sheriff offices and others, so Arneson narrowed the focus of the effort and pursued a bill that would allow just county attorneys and assistant county attorneys to conceal and carry weapons while at work, instead of all county employees.
The bill got a substantial amount of backing from legislators in 2011 after a defendant shot and wounded Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell following the man’s conviction of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Other incidents in Minnesota have also led to support for the law.
In 2004, a defendant shot a gun at the house of an assistant Beltrami County Attorney. The defendant was convicted of second-degree assault.
In 2008, a gunman took hostage the Morrison County Attorney and County Board. A SWAT team killed him.
And just this year, a defendant in Todd County was convicted of stalking that county’s attorney.
Shoring up security at government center
Reiter and her staff might not be packing heat anytime soon to help increase security at the Chisago County Government Center, but there are measures being taken to make the building safer for employees and the public.
County Administrator Bruce Messelt has been meeting with county officials to determine what kinds of changes can be made at the center to make it safer.
“At this point, everything is being looked at,” he said. “The biggest issues would be access points, whether or not the court rooms should have metal detectors and other basic security issues, such as improving outdoor lighting.”
Messelt noted an “employee education” component might be incorporated as well; so county workers can be informed about best practices when it comes to safety and what to do in the event of an emergency.
He said county staff hopes to bring options on how to increase safety at the center to the County Board in May.