Judge denies request to allow guns at Minnesota State Fair

A crowd of people at the fair.
A crowd packs onto the street on the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair on Aug 22, 2019.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2019

Updated: 5:55 p.m.

Guns will remain barred from the Minnesota State Fair after a judge refused Wednesday to suspend a ban on people bringing firearms onto the grounds even if they have a permit to carry.

The decision to deny a temporary injunction was made by Ramsey County District Court Judge Laura Nelson on the eve of the 2021 fair’s opening day. It isn’t a final resolution to a lawsuit filed this month by the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus and some of its members, and an appeal is possible.

“Both parties have articulated harms,” the judge wrote in her 13-page order. “The court finds, however, that the plaintiffs have long been aware of the society’s position on guns at the State Fair and that their extensive delay undercuts their claim of irreparable harm. This factor slightly favors denying the injunction.”

The State Agricultural Society, which operates the fair, has argued that the gun restrictions are aimed at protecting public safety. The gun owners group contends they weren’t properly enacted and aren’t valid under state law.

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“We are pleased with the ruling by Ramsey County District Court Judge Laura Nelson,” the State Fair said in statement. “By denying the injunction, it allows us to continue to maintain our time-honored Minnesota tradition of peaceful, family-friendly fairs by protecting the safety and security of our guests.”

Bryan Strawser with the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus says he's disappointed with the decision, but is urging permit holders not to bring guns to the fair.

"The fair has made it a misdemeanor to carry past the security checkpoint, and it doesn't help our cause to cause issues in this process as we're working through this litigation,” Strawser said. “So our advice would be not to do that and let the process play out in the courts.”

Fair officials have taken the no-gun posture for years, but this will be the first fair where metal detectors are at entrances.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit because his office is in charge of security at the fair.

At a hearing last week, attorneys drilled down on the Minnesota statutes that govern both gun permits and the State Fair, and whether the fair is an arm of the government.

That’s key because Minnesota’s gun carrying permit law prohibits state government entities from enacting firearms bans. Private entities can do so as long as they post proper signage alerting people to restrictions.

The fair’s lawyer told the judge that Minnesota law establishes the Agricultural Society as a public corporation, making it distinct from a government entity.

Nelson’s order seemed to concur, saying the fair receives no financial help from any government agency.

Read the full order here:

MPR News reporter Matt Sepic contributed to this story.