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Rochester, Minn. — By the time applicants get their concealed carry permits, there may be severe limitations on where they can legally carry a gun. Ramsey county is just one of several counties planning to ban guns on county property.
According to County Board Chair Jim McDonough, the ordinance will make it a misdemeanor to carry a gun into county buildings, parks, beaches, ice arenas and libraries. McDonough says he needs to look out for the safety of county employees.
"I'm not anti-gun and I'm not anti-conceal and carry. I just don't agree that doing public business in a public building is a situation where their rights to carry a gun would outweigh the work of those people in those buildings," says McDonough.
I don't think that banning guns in our parks and ice arenas is responding to hysteria by any means. If somebody can tell me why they need to carry a gun into a library for personal protection, I'd like to hear it.
Both Hennepin and Blue Earth counties are proposing similar ordinances. According to the Association of Minnesota Counties, all seven metro-area counties are interested in following suit. The only problem is that this type of ordinance could be illegal.
The Minnesota Personal Protection Act, otherwise known as the 'concealed carry' law, allows private establishments and district judges to ban guns on their premises. It doesn't ban guns on public property.
Nancy Wolff, a lawyer for the Minneapolis firm Briggs and Morgan, has given classes on the concealed carry law to concerned employers. Wolff says the law is ambiguous on some points and omits others entirely.
"The statute doesn't say how governmental entitites are supposed to ban handguns, it doesn't say they can ban handguns, it's just silent on that issue," says Wolff, "so it leaves the door open, I would say for counties to say 'it doesn't say we can't, so we're going to.'"
Wolff says counties are banning guns because the law is too vague. Lynda Boudreau, the author of the House version of the bill, disagrees with Wolff.
"I think its very clear as far as where permitees are limited and where they can exercise their right to carry, and thats why we'll have a court decision and perhaps that will provide better clarity," says Boudreau.
Boudreau says she expects the courts will eventually allow permit-holders to carry guns on county property. She cites the section in the law stating no government official may limit the exercise of a permit to carry. Boudreau says counties that ban guns are simply reacting to hysteria.
But Ramsey County's Jim McDonough doesn't see it that way. "I don't think that banning guns in our parks and ice arenas is responding to hysteria by any means. If somebody can tell me why they need to carry a gun into a library for personal protection, I'd like to hear it," says McDonough.
McDonough says Ramsey County is basing its ordinance on a 1969 Minnesota statute that gives counties the right to create rules in order to protect both employees and county residents on county property. He says he's confident the county would prevail if the ordinance is challenged in court. According to lawyer Nancy Wolff, Ramsey County can expect to be challenged soon.
"I think there are a lot of people who are eager to enforce their Second Amendment rights, eager to exercise their Second Amendment rights," says Wolff, "and I think those people are going to press those rights."
Wolff says a court ruling could go either way on this issue. However, she says, if the courts rule in favor of a county in a case like this, it's likely other counties and cities across the state would be given the green light to ban guns.
"The theoretical underpinning of this is that if criminals have handguns, we should put handguns in the hands of citizens to defend themselves," says Wolff. "Well, we're certainly undercutting the theoretical basis for passing this statute if we're saying you can have a permit, you can carry a handgun, but we're minimizing the places where they can carry a handgun." The Hennepin County Board will vote on a resolution to ban guns on county property next Tuesday. Since five of the seven county commissioners are sponsoring the bill, it's likely it'll pass. The Ramsey County Board will hold a public hearing on their proposed ordinance on June 17.