Federal judge: 18-20 year-olds can get Minnesota gun permits

A close up of a hand holding a gun.
A compact 9mm firearm is a popular choice for many to use at local shooting ranges.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

A federal judge on Friday invalidated a Minnesota law that excludes adults under age 21 from obtaining permits to carry guns in public.

With the help of gun-rights groups, three people who were under 21 years old sued the state and some county sheriffs over a clause in a 2003 Minnesota law disqualifying them from getting a permit to have a gun in public. The case was filed in 2021.

U.S. District Court Judge Katherine M. Menendez ruled that their constitutional rights had been violated. The judge barred the state from enforcing the law.

“Based on a careful review of the record, the court finds that defendants have failed to identify analogous regulations that show a historical tradition in America of depriving 18 to 20-year-olds the right to publicly carry a handgun for self-defense,” Menendez wrote in a 50-page order. “As a result, the age requirement prohibiting persons between the ages of 18 and 20 from obtaining such a permit to carry violates the Second Amendment.” 

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She suggested her hands were tied by a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2022 known as the Bruen decision. That, she said, elevates the constitutional protection over restrictions designed around a social or public safety purpose.

“If the Court were permitted to consider the value of these goals and how well Minnesota’s age requirement fits the ends to be achieved, the outcome here would likely be different,” the judge wrote. “But whatever the evidence may reveal about the wisdom behind enacting a 21-year-old requirement for publicly carrying a handgun, such analysis belongs to a regime of means-end scrutiny scuttled by Bruen.”

Bryan Strawser, the chairman of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, called the outcome a resounding victory.

“The practical effect is Minnesota's prohibition on 18 to 20-year-olds obtaining a permit to carry is immediately enjoined, and adults of any age that qualify for a permit to carry can go through the proper training and apply to receive a permit from their county sheriff,” he said.

Permits are not automatically granted. A person must prove they have received training, undergo a background check and can’t be prohibited by reason of a prior criminal offense or a serious mental illness problem.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Keith Ellison said lawyers in the office were reviewing the decision and considering options, which could include an appeal to a higher court.

The decision comes as Minnesota legislators are considering adding new laws around gun background checks and a revocation process for people deemed a risk.

Correction (April 1, 2023): A previous version of this story misidentified the judge in the case. The above version has been updated.