Minnesota gun group, two pistol owners sue to be able to carry guns at State Fair

Wisconsin State Fair also bans the weapons, except for active and retired police
Minn State Fair 2
(Minnesota State Fair Photo)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WKBT) — A gun owners group is suing the Minnesota State Fair and Ramsey County, demanding that people with handgun permits be allowed to pack heat during the opens Aug. 26-Sept. 6 fair.
The Minnesota State Agricultural Society, the umbrella organization for the Great Minnesota Get-Together, bars people from carrying guns on the grounds.
The Wisconsin State Fair, which began in West Allis on Aug. 4 and runs through Sunday, also bars handguns on the grounds, although active-duty and retired law enforcement are allowed to carry — as long as they have their credentials with them.
In the Gopher State, the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus and two people who want to arm themselves as they move through the elbow-to-elbow crowd seeking their prey — the fair’s famous foods on a stick, Sweet Martha’s Cookies and other attractions — filed a suit Tuesday insisting that the ag society doesn’t have the authority to restrict guns.
Ramsey County also is a defendant because the county Sheriff Bob Fletcher directs fair security.
“Minnesota law allows permitted carry even inside the State Capitol — an area more serious than the light-hearted State Fair,” according to the lawsuit, filed in Ramsey County District Court.
“Plaintiffs wish to exercise their fundamental, constitutionally and statutorily protected right to carry loaded, operable handguns on their person, at the annual Minnesota State Fair, for lawful purposes including immediate self-defense.”
The restriction is a longstanding one, but enforcement has been spotty. The State Fair’s plan to station metal detectors at entrances to the event, which takes place in Falcon Heights, prompted the suit, said Bryan Strawser, chairman of the Gun Owners Caucus.
“As an arm of state government, the State Agricultural Society and the State Fair are completely preempted from being able to prohibit firearms or interfere with the lawful right of Minnesotans to carry per state statute,” Strawser said.
The plaintiffs want an injunction to prevent security officials from denying entry to or detaining gun owners who have permits.
Fletcher questioned why he was named as a defendant, noting that the State Fair sets admission policies. The fair hired three security firms and has a joint powers agreement with the Minnesota State Patrol for gate security, Fletcher said.
Ramsey County deputies and officers will cover policing inside the gates, while the state patrol and fair security will decide whether to bar armed fairgoers, Fletcher said.
“We’re always concerned about weapons,” he said, “but we’re confident we can respond as necessary.”
Fletcher also noted that state law does not distinguish between carrying concealed handguns and open carry of weapons such as assault rifles.
“One of the interesting areas of law is that, if the judge were to rescind (the fair’s) policy, not only would people be able to carry concealed handguns, they’d be able to carry long weapons, outwardly exposed long weapons, as well,” Fletcher said.
Leah Janus, the ag society’s lawyer, wrote to an attorney for the Gun Owners Caucus, defending the restriction.
“The State Agricultural Society has the obligation and the authority to impose rules and policies that prioritize the health and safety of fairgoers,” she wrote. “To that end, the State Agricultural Society has consistently maintained the policy that private citizens may not bring weapons onto the fairgrounds during the fair.”
Minnesota State Fair officials declined comment on pending litigation, other than to say, “We will maintain our time-honored Minnesota tradition of peaceful, family-friendly fairs by protecting the safety and security of our guests.”
Meanwhile, Rashmi Seneviratne, executive director of a gun safety group called Protect Minnesota, said she owns a gun but does not have a permit to carry.
“I understand the right to carry, and I get that,” Seneviratne said. “But at the State Fair, people are drinking, and alcohol and guns just do not mix.”
Guns aren’t the only items banned at the Minnesota fair. Also barred, among other things, are:

  • Fireworks or other explosive and flammable objects
  • Alcoholic beverages or any illegal substance
  • Drones or any remote-controlled toys
  • Bikes, skateboards, skates and hoverboards.

In the Badger State, allowing police to bring their weapons is a longheld practice.
Police officers, active and retired, need only check in with the officer on duty at each entrance to carry their weapons into the fair.
Police are allowed to carry weapons while citizens who have concealed carry permits are not for several reasons, State Fair Police Chief James Bruno told reporters.
Police have far more extensive training than private citizens, he said. They are highly trained in the use and legalities involved in lethal force, and they know how to react if trouble breaks out, he said. If something happened, they could be called upon as a secondary resource, Bruno said.

This story includes information from The Associated Press and other media.