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Rep. Tony Cornish pushes for another constitutional amendment on ballot

The most recent proposal reaffirms the right of individuals to “acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms.”

"It's a more strict interpretation" of the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, says Rep. Tony Cornish.

Republican legislators are pressing forward with efforts to bring constitutional amendments to the November ballot.

The most recent proposal, filed Wednesday and authored by Rep. Tony Cornish of Lake Crystal, reaffirms the right of individuals to “acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms.” The legislation adds that any restriction must be subjected to “strict scrutiny.”

“It’s a more strict interpretation” of the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution, said Cornish.

Cornish is a veteran in this area, having authored previous gun-rights legislation, including a bill this session that allows county attorneys to carry firearms.

He’s confident of the legality of the proposed constitutional amendment. “This one, every scholar that I talked to tells me, this doesn’t limit a state’s rights to restrict,” he said. “It does not prohibit the state from regulating ownership.”

Like other proposals to amend the Minnesota Constitution — making Minnesota a right-to- work state, requiring voter identification at the polls and the marriage amendment proposal passed last year — the subject matter will provoke a lively and heated debate.

Gov. Mark Dayton is no fan of constitutional amendments. He’s objected not so much to the policy points of the legislation, but the fact that the bills, as constitutional amendments, bypass the governor’s office and head right to the voters with no opportunity for negotiation between the executive and legislative branches of government.

Dale Carpenter, constitutional law expert, professor of civil rights and civil liberties law at the University of Minnesota Law School and a Republican, says amending the constitutional should be a rare occurrence. The need for a constitutional amendment should meet several requirements, he said.  

“We must address three questions: Do we favor the public policy embodied in the amendment, is a constitutional amendment the only way to effectively address this issue, and, even it is, have we addressed it in the narrowest possible fashion?” he said

Carpenter said that Cornish’s bill could pass the test, but he’d still recommend that the Legislature try to address the issue through a statute.

As to a concern, often voiced by Republicans, that judges reinterpret statutes, he said: “If we start amending our constitution in anticipation of what courts might one day do, there will be no end to the constitutional amendments that we will be passing, and it won’t be just Republican-proposed amendments but Democratic-proposed.”
Political realities might also have a role in how many bills make it to the voters as constitutional amendments. Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem has said he wants three constitutional amendment proposals, at most, to emerge this session. Carpenter’s advice — to try to pass a statute first — may be the fallback position as the legislative session progresses.