Judge promises quick ruling on guns at Minnesota State Fair

A judge on Thursday promised a quick ruling on whether people with permits to carry firearms can bring their guns into the Minnesota State Fair, which opens in one week.

The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus asked Judge Laura Nelson to issue a temporary injunction prohibiting the fair and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office from enforcing the fair’s ban on bringing dangerous weapons onto the fairgrounds. Nelson said at the end of a hearing that she would rule as soon as possible, but definitely before the fair begins next Thursday.

Attorney Scott Flaherty, who represents the gun owners, argued that the ban violates Minnesota statutes governing carry permits and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. He said the question isn’t whether allowing guns onto the fairgrounds is good public policy, it’s whether the ban is legal.

"We’re seeking nothing more and nothing less than an order requiring defendants to comply with state statutes. That’s it," Flaherty said.

But attorney Leah Janus, who represents the fair’s governing body, the State Agricultural Society, argued that fair officials have the authority under state law to impose rules they deem necessary to protect the "health, safety and comfort" of visitors. She also argued that a 2017 Court of Appeals decision that affirmed the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s ban on guns at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport set a precedent that directly applies to the fair.

State Fair and law enforcement officials said in court filings before the hearing that they were concerned about public safety if they allow guns into the fair, partly given that vendors serve alcoholic beverages, and the possibility that permit holders might try to openly carry semiautomatic rifles into the fairgrounds, as some have done at recent protests.

"It is not sound public policy to allow members of the public to carry guns in crowded public places," Janus said.

One key issue in the case is whether the Minnesota State Fair is a "governmental subdivision" governed by the state’s conceal-carry law, like a local governmental unit, or whether it’s a "public corporation" like the airports commission, which under the 2017 ruling can ban guns. Another issue is whether the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus even has the legal standing to challenge the fair’s ban on guns.

Janus also raised questions about why the gun owners waited until last week to file their lawsuit, given that the fair first banned dangerous weapons in 2003, started doing bag checks at entrances in 2016 and planned to begin using metal detectors at its gates to screen for weapons in 2020.

"There is no emergency here," Janus said. "There us no reason to be contemplating granting injunctions on the eve of the 2021 fair."