The Potluck

Judge won’t force Minnesota State Fair to let visitors bring guns as lawsuit proceeds

By: - August 25, 2021 7:10 pm

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota State Fair.

A Minnesota judge will not immediately force the Minnesota State Fair to let permitted gun owners carry firearms inside the fairgrounds, noting that a lawsuit challenging the ban is unlikely to prevail but can proceed.

In a ruling issued on Wednesday, Minnesota District Court Judge Laura Nelson denied a motion for a temporary injunction filed by a pair of gun activists and the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, allowing the gun ban to stay in place as the case is argued.

“We’re disappointed in the outcome, but we also knew that getting a temporary injunction on a case like this is a real high burden to overcome,” said Bryan Strawser, co-founder and chairman of the Gun Owners Caucus. “But we’re confident we’re going to prevail in the end.”

Rev. Tim Christopher, a Black Twin Cities pastor, and Sarah Cade Hauptman, a longtime gun rights activist, filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the State Agricultural Society, which runs the fair, along with Ramsey County and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s office, which was contracted to manage law enforcement.

They argued the Agricultural Society doesn’t have the authority to ban guns because the Second Amendment and state law supersedes local rules. The fairgrounds are on state property, and the Minnesota State Agriculture Society is a special entity defined in state statute.

In their complaint, Christopher, Hauptman and the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus also noted that the Agricultural Society doesn’t have a rule on its books explicitly banning guns, although the State Fair has posted signs saying guns are banned since at least 2003 and conducted bag searches since at least 2016. Despite the ban, both plaintiffs have previously carried guns inside the fairgrounds, their lawyer said during oral arguments.

This year, for the first time, the State Fair plans to have visitors pass through metal detectors to scan for guns and other weapons. This was prompted by shootings near the fairgrounds,  including in 2019 when three people were shot just outside the main gates.

The increased violence is also what prompted Christopher and Hauptman to sue to carry guns.

“The Criminals will have their guns, why should we be at a disadvantage,” Christopher wrote on Twitter.

In her ruling, Nelson noted the court should only change the status quo while a lawsuit is underway in extreme cases, weighing possible harms, the likelihood of success of the case, the public’s interest and the administrative burden of enforcing the injunction.

The Agricultural Society argued that allowing guns would cause them immediate harm in reduced ticket sales and lower attendance in the likelihood that music performers would pull out of the event. They also pointed out that signs had been posted since 2003 banning guns, which they argued undercuts the gun activists’ argument that they need the court to intervene immediately while the lawsuit is pending, an argument Nelson said was convincing.

Finally, Nelson said the lawsuit is unlikely to prevail given that the Minnesota statutes cited by the gun activists don’t allow for everyday citizens to challenge through a “private right of action.”

Strawser said he disagrees with that judgement.

“We’ll have further legal arguments about that in the upcoming hearing on the merits of the case,” Strawser said.

The lawsuit is likely to spark debate at the Legislature, where Republicans frequently push for expanded gun rights.

Calls to Ramsey County seeking comment were not immediately returned.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.