Archived Story

FF chief opposes gun bill

Published 11:18am Friday, February 17, 2012

District 10 Senator Gretchen Hoffman has been receiving criticism from the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association for a bill she believes would expand gun owners’ rights to defend themselves in life-threatening situations. Though the organization is against the bill, Hoffman said she’s received private support from many law enforcement officers in the state.

Fergus Falls Police Chief Kile Bergren is not one of them. Though Bergren said he respects people’s right to defend themselves in hostile situations, he believes the bill is too vaguely defined and gives people too much leeway to potentially take a life.

Bergren told The Journal that first and foremost, he is fully in favor of citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

“I’m a firm believer in people’s rights to protect themselves,” he said.

However, he said, existing state laws already allow people to do just that.

“I don’t see this as being a big problem in our state,” he said of adequate self-defense protections.

When someone is in his or her own home, Bergren explained, that person currently does not have a “duty to retreat” if at all possible. That duty is in place in other situations, but Hoffman’s bill would remove that duty.

“There are just way too many situations that could potentially escalate to the point of using deadly force (in public) where if someone would just walk away, the deadly force could have been avoided,” he remarked.

He added that residents’ duty to retreat if possible is also in place so that professionals can deal with potentially volatile situations.

“That’s our job; we’re supposed to go in and apprehend these people,” he said. “You as a citizen, that’s not your responsibility. It might be to protect yourself, but it’s not your job to rid the world of dangerous people.”

Current law states that deadly force should only be used when a person believes there is imminent danger of great bodily harm or death. Another problem Bergren has with Hoffman’s bill is that such danger is presumed in many situations.

“That’s more authority than a police officer has to use deadly force,” Bergren said, citing Minnesota statute 609.066. “We never work under the presumption that someone is going to harm us. We have to wait until a reasonable police officer believes he is in immediate danger of harm or death, or that somebody else is.”

Though Otter Tail County Sheriff Brian Schlueter doesn’t have as many problems with the bill as Bergren does, he agreed that the presumption of threat could be problematic. The bill, he said, would eliminate a court’s ability to determine if someone behaved in a reasonable manner when shooting, instead putting the focus on “what’s reasonable to the individual.”

“That’s pretty subjective,” he said.

Bergren used road rage as an example of how the provisions could get out of control. If a person leaves his car and approaches another vehicle out of anger, there is the threat (however unknown) of physical violence.

“Is this a scenario now where someone could use deadly force?” he asked. It appears to him that such justification is possible.

Schlueter said that the presumption of threat could also lead to gun owners mistakenly killing people who meant them no harm – like a drunk college student who mistakenly walked onto the wrong lawn. Deadly force should not be people’s first option, he said.

“As peace officers, we (try) to use it as a last resort,” he said.

On the other hand, if someone pulls a gun or a knife on a victim in public, Bergren and Schlueter said deadly force is likely justified. However, they believe many such situations could be covered simply by modifying current law or by making Hoffman’s bill more specific.

Bergren also opposes two other lesser-known provisions in the bill – one that would accept all out-of-state concealed carry permits, and another that requires police to immediately return confiscated weapons to a person if the person feels he cannot defend himself without the weapons (unless the weapons are criminal evidence).

“Minnesota is one of a few states where in order to get a permit to purchase or a permit to carry, we check your criminal history and we check your background to see if you’ve ever been committed to a mental health facility,” said Bergren, noting that it’s a provision he agrees with.

Many other states have such stringent guidelines, and some states, said Bergren, allow people to apply for licenses online, virtually no questions asked. Some of those people may not be allowed to own a firearm under Minnesota statute.

In regards to the gun confiscation rules, Bergren said, there are many reasons why law enforcement might temporarily keep confiscated firearms, including volatile domestic situations or suicidal gun owners.

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