Police unions push proposal to allow off-duty cops to keep guns in venues; Vikings concerned

The second half of the first game at the stadium.
"We think it will have potential impact on public safety and on stadium security," Vikings executive vice president Lester Bagley said of a bill to allow off-duty cops to take guns where others can't, like U.S. Bank Stadium.
Andy Clayton-King | AP

A bill to give off-duty police officers power to carry guns in places where other people can't awaits final action by the Minnesota Legislature.

The proposal, which cleared a Senate committee Tuesday, allows off-duty cops to take firearms into certain venues after going through regular security screening and presenting a valid law enforcement ID.

Police unions are pushing the idea, but the bill has raised some alarm, including from the Minnesota Vikings.

The discussion stems from the Minnesota Citizens' Personal Protection Act, which became law 14 years ago. It expanded the right of permitted gun owners to carry guns in public.

As part of that law, privately-owned establishments were empowered to keep guns out by posting a sign indicating they banned guns on the premises. That includes places like malls, restaurants and sports stadiums. Technically, malls bind their tenants on the gun issue, but some like the Mall of America tells visitors firearms are banned.

But confusion over the law has meant some off-duty officers were prevented from keeping their firearms when they thought they could, said Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.

In 2015, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a National Football League restriction that limited gun possession to on-duty officers and hired security.

As a result, off-duty officers weren't allowed to bring firearms into games they were attending as fans.

The bill that passed committee Tuesday, which Flaherty's group supports, would override any such policy.

But for the Minnesota Vikings, that's a problem.

Lester Bagley, the team's executive vice president, said the Vikings plan to raise concerns about the bill with Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders.

"We think it will have potential impact on public safety and on stadium security," Bagley said.

There is a significant law enforcement presence in and outside of U.S. Bank Stadium on game day, including both uniformed officers and hired security, Bagley said.

But apparently not all big venues ban off-duty cops from bringing in guns.

Minneapolis police Lt. Bob Kroll said he's been a Wild season ticket holder since the team came into existence — and he said he's brought his gun to games at the Xcel Energy Center without incident.

"I come in, I check in. I show them my police ID," he said. "They know where I'm seated, and in I go."

Flaherty said off-duty law enforcement don't know when they'll have to spring into action. He cited last year's St. Cloud mall attack by a man wielding a knife.

A part-time cop who was at Crossroads Center fatally shot the man after he had injured 10 people.

"If this attacker had not been encountered by the trained, armed, off-duty police officer who was capable of confronting him," Flaherty said, "the attacker would have certainly harmed or killed many more people."

But some Democrats on the state Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee said they were uncomfortable with what they saw as a lack of specified precautions in the bill.

Officers should have to follow a protocol when they're off duty with a gun where a ban is in place, said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.

"I'm trying to find some reasonable language here that accommodates the desire of peace officers to attend these games and not disarm," Latz said, "but still give the venue the ability to verify that in fact they are who they say they are."

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