Minn. lawmaker stopped with gun by abortion clinic

Published 1:19 pm Wednesday, November 24, 2010

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Police temporarily confiscated the loaded handgun of a Republican state legislator who raised alarm when he was spotted with it holstered to his hip in the parking lot of a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Paul.

State Rep. Tom Hackbarth of Cedar, who recently won an eighth term, wasn’t arrested or charged with a crime in the incident last week. He has a permit to carry a weapon in public.

But House Speaker-designate Kurt Zellers decided Wednesday to suspend Hackbarth from a leadership position. Hackbarth was slated to be the chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee beginning in January.

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Hackbarth, 58, told police that he was in the area looking for a woman he had been dating and he wasn’t aware of he was parked outside a clinic where abortions are performed, according to a police report. The clinic has a sign on its outer wall banning guns even by conceal-and-carry permit holders. A knowing violation of such a posting can lead to a petty misdemeanor citation and a $25 fine, but there are exceptions for parking lots.

Responding to a call from a clinic security guard, police officers pulled Hackbarth’s truck over soon after he left the parking lot and approached his car with their guns drawn. An officer handcuffed the lawmaker as they sought answers in the Nov. 16 incident.

According to the police report, Hackbarth said he was checking up on a girlfriend who was supposedly at a restaurant in the neighborhood and possibly with another man. Hackbarth, who said he is divorcing his wife of 25 years, said he had met the woman he was dating through an online matchmaking site.

A clinic security guard spotted the gun when Hackbarth was changing his coat in the parking lot. Security camera footage shows him walking through the lot and into a nearby alley before getting back in his truck and leaving.

The report said Hackbarth admitted being “jealous” but stressed that he always carries a weapon.

Officers worried about “stalking-like behavior” so they kept Hackbarth’s gun. He retrieved the gun on Tuesday.

Hackbarth acknowledged to the St. Paul Pioneer Press the story sounds “really weird and odd.”

“I understand why the police and the security guard thought what they might have thought, but it really was insignificant to me,” Hackbarth told the newspaper.

In their report, police officers said they were unable to track the woman down. Hackbarth said the relationship with the woman is over. “Sure enough, she lied to me and I’m done with it,” he said.

In a brief statement, fellow Republican Rep. Zellers referenced the incident in deciding to suspend Hackbarth “from any current and pending leadership roles within the House GOP caucus.”

“The suspension will remain in effect until the issue is fully resolved,” Zellers said. It was unclear what aspects remained unresolved, and a Zellers spokesman didn’t immediately return a message seeking additional comment.