Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds State’s Gun-Carrying Law

Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds State’s Gun-Carrying Law
Two 2nd Amendment activists carry guns in custom-made holsters during an open carry rally at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 1, 2016. (Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
Matthew Vadum

The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that a state law requiring individuals to possess a permit to carry a handgun in public is constitutional and doesn’t contravene the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling comes as President Joe Biden presses for a ban on so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and for more background checks, as Biden’s controversial nomination of anti-gun activist David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives flounders in the U.S. Senate.

On Aug. 7, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) implored Biden to withdraw the nomination, saying the Senate “has spent quite enough time flirting with this profoundly misguided nomination.”

The case at hand, State of Minnesota v. Hatch, court file A20-0176, was decided by the Minnesota Supreme Court on Aug. 4.

Nathan Ernest Hatch’s truck broke down on Jan. 8, 2018, as he was driving to work. When Metropolitan Airport Commission police stopped to render assistance, Hatch volunteered that “he might have a handgun in a backpack in the back seat of his truck,” and that “he did not have a permit to carry a pistol,” according to court documents.

The police arrested him after they found a loaded, uncased pistol in his backpack and charged him with a gross misdemeanor.

Hatch filed a pretrial motion to strike down the permit-to-carry statute, arguing the requirement that an individual obtain a permit to carry a firearm violates the Second Amendment. The district court denied his motion. Hatch then waived his right to a jury trial and submitted his case to the district court on facts agreed upon by the defense and the prosecution.

The district court found Hatch guilty and sentenced him to 180 days in the county workhouse but stayed the execution of the sentence for two years. On appeal, Hatch argued that the permit-to-carry statute violates the Second Amendment because it fails to survive strict scrutiny, the highest level of judicial review.

The state argued that the law was subject only to a lower standard of judicial review, that of intermediate scrutiny, which requires merely that a statute be substantially related to an important governmental objective.

Because the court of appeals “did not resolve the parties’ dispute because it concluded the permit-to-carry statute survives the more stringent standard of strict scrutiny,” the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, that court stated in its opinion.

The court held that there was an “undisputed compelling governmental interest in ensuring public safety and the narrowly tailored provisions of the statute to achieve that interest,” and that therefore “the permit-to-carry statute withstands strict scrutiny,” and “does not violate the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

The court observed in its opinion that getting a carry permit is easy in Minnesota.

“Indeed, it is hard to imagine a less restrictive firearm permitting scheme than the one provided by the permit-to-carry statute and its related provisions. Law-abiding citizens over the age of 21 need only show that they have passed a gun safety course and that they are not a danger to themselves or others to receive a permit to carry a handgun in public,” the justices wrote.

It wasn’t clear at press time whether Hatch will appeal the decision.

Gun-carrying laws are becoming more relaxed in some states.

As of Sept. 1, Texans will be able to carry handguns without a license or training, while in South Carolina this month, a new law will allow anyone over the age of 21 with a concealed weapons permit to openly carry firearms.
Illinois is moving in the opposite direction. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law mandating universal background checks even for private sales, which helps state police confiscate guns from people whose firearm licenses have been revoked.

The U.S. Supreme Court may have an opportunity to clarify some of the issues involved in the right to keep and bear arms when it hears New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett in the fall term. The issue is whether New York state’s denial of litigants’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violates the Second Amendment.