In the Spotlight

News & Features
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Gun advocates question State Fair's gun ban
Larger view
The State Fair gopher greets visitors to the fairgrounds, and this year those visitors will see signs informing them of the ban on handguns at the event. Gun advocates question whether the fair can take that action under the state's new handgun law. (MPR file photo)
When the Minnesota State Fair opens Thursday, visitors will see signs at entrances banning guns from the fairgrounds. Fair officials say the ban on guns has been in place for decades, and makes practical sense. Gun rights advocates say the fair has no legal authority under Minnesota's new concealed carry law to prevent permit-holders from bringing handguns to the fair. They say if the fair goes ahead, it'll likely face a lawsuit.

St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota State Fair Director Jerry Hammer says it makes no more sense to allow guns at the fair than it does to allow archers to shoot arrows on the midway.

Larger view
Image Fair director Jerry Hammer

"It's just common sense. I don't know that I can really elaborate much more on that," says Hammer. "There's not a large fair in the country, or theme park, that allows weapons. It's common sense."

Hammer says there are simply too many people around the fairgrounds to allow weapons. He says the Minnesota State Fair is a safe place, leaving no need for people to protect themselves.

But the organization Concealed Carry Reform Now, which successfully lobbied for the recently passed Minnesota Personal Protection Act, says the fair has no right to prohibit permit-holders from bringing their handguns into the fair.

"They're outside the law, outside of their authority and they know better," says the group's attorney David Gross.

They're outside the law, outside of their authority and they know better. ... They're trying to limit the exercise of a permit to carry.
- David Gross, attorney for Concealed Carry Reform Now

Gross says it's not even a gray area -- that the law explicitly states public places, like the fair, have no authority to ban guns.

"The property is owned by the state of Minnesota. The statute says no sheriff, police chief, governmental unit, governmental official, government employee or other person or body, acting under color of law or governmental authority, may limit the exercise of a permit to carry. And they're trying to limit the exercise of a permit to carry," Gross says.

State Fair attorney Kent Harbison says the fair's no-gun policy is nothing new -- for decades, the fair has banned weapons out of public safety concerns.

He says fair staff posted signs about the ban this year because of all of the attention surrounding Minnesota's new law.

Harbison says fair staff has every intention of enforcing the ban, and that the administration feels "fairly confident that its position is long-standing, and makes a lot of sense."

"If they found anyone violating the policy, they would simply ask them to leave the fairgrounds. And if there were any resistance to that, any problem, then they might just refer to the police," says Harbison. "But I don't think the State Fair intends to make any kind of a big scene about it. They just want to go on with the way they've been doing things for many years, and hope everyone else understands and respects that."

Larger view
Image Crowds at the fair

David Gross from the gun rights group says if officials attempt to remove someone from the fairgrounds who's legally carrying a handgun, that person will have a strong civil rights claim against the State Fair. And Gross says it would be a claim he'd be happy to litigate.

"If an individual who is subject to enforcement comes to me, you can take it to the bank. OK? It would be the same thing as if an African American went to polling place and they said, 'Well, you've got a right to vote, but not here,'" says Gross.

If a lawsuit emerges from the State Fair's gun ban, it won't be the first litigation in response to Minnesota's Personal Protection Act. In June, several churches won a temporary court order allowing them to ban guns using customized signage that does not conform to criteria spelled out in the law.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects