Date: June 2019
MCIT has received a number of questions regarding the ability of a county or other public entity to prohibit handguns and other firearms on its premises, in particular courthouses, under the permit-to-carry law. This article does not address special provisions in the law for schools, state licensed childcare centers and jails or correctional facilities.
Permit-to-carry Law Has Limited Ability to Prohibit Weapons
In general, Minnesota law prohibits individuals from carrying firearms in public unless the individual has a valid permit to carry the weapon (Minn. Stat. §§ 624.714; 624.7181; 97B.045.).
Minnesota’s permit-to-carry law (a.k.a. Citizens’ Personal Protection Act of 2003; Minn. Stat. § 624.714) allows operators of private establishments that are generally open to the public to ban all firearms from their establishments, even when the firearm owner has a valid permit. Counties and other public entities do not have this same flexibility.
The statute defines “private establishment” as a “building, structure, or portion thereof that is owned, leased, controlled, or operated by a nongovernmental entity for a nongovernmental purpose.” (Minn. Stat. § 624.714, subd. 17(b)(4). )
A private entity that leases space in a facility owned by a public entity would likely meet the definition of a “private establishment.” As such, the private establishment could prohibit firearms in the leased space by following the legally required posting and notice requirements.
A landlord, on the other hand, may not restrict “the lawful carry or possession of firearms by tenants or their guests.” (Minn. Stat. § 624.714, subd. 17(f).)
Conversely, when a public entity is leasing space from a private organization, the public entity may not prohibit firearms from the leased space even though the leasing party prohibits them. Public entities leasing space in a federal facility that prohibits firearms may be obligated to comply with federal restrictions regarding firearms possession.
Although counties may not be able to ban firearms completely from the courthouse complex under the permit-to-carry law, counties may post the requirements found in Minnesota Statutes, Section 609.66, Subdivision 1g and, where applicable, notices of any relevant court orders restricting gun possession.
Minnesota Statutes, Section 609.66, Subdivision 1g makes it a felony for an individual to possess a dangerous weapon, ammunition or explosives within any courthouse complex with the exception of:
- licensed peace officers or military personnel who are performing official duties;
- persons who carry pistols according to the terms of a permit issued under Minnesota’s permit-to-carry law and who so notify the sheriff;
- persons who possess dangerous weapons for the purpose of display as demonstrative evidence during testimony at a trial or hearing or exhibition in compliance with advance notice and safety guidelines set by the sheriff; or
- persons who possess dangerous weapons in a courthouse complex with the express consent of the county sheriff.
Several Minnesota courts have relied upon inherent judicial authority to ban weapons in court facilities, including firearms for which a permit has been issued. Depending on the design of the courthouse, some district courts have extended this prohibition to cover the entire building. An individual violating the court order could be held in contempt of court, as well as subject to any other penalties permitted by law.
It must be noted that Minnesota Statutes, Section 609.66, Subdivision 1g does not define “courthouse complex.” Arguably, counties with buildings separate and distinct from the courthouse complex may not be able to place restrictions on persons with a valid permit entering the building with a firearm.
Restricting Employees from Carrying Firearms
Minnesota’s permit-to-carry law specifically allows an employer, public or private, to “establish policies that restrict the carry or possession of firearms by its employees while acting in the course and scope of employment.” (Minn. Stat. § 624.714, subd. 18(a).) An employer may impose employment-related discipline on an employee violating the policy.[i]
Accordingly, public employers may establish a policy that prohibits employees from carrying or possessing firearms while:
- working on the entity’s property.
- working in any location on behalf of the entity.
- driving on business for the entity.
- riding as a passenger on business for the entity.
- performing emergency or on-call work after hours for the entity.
- attending training or conferences on behalf of the entity.
Employers establishing a weapons policy encompassing more than just firearms may want to define the term “weapon” for clarity.
Under Minnesota Statutes, Section 624.714, Subdivision 18, an employer cannot prohibit the lawful carry or possession of firearms in a parking facility or parking area.
An issue could arise when an employee legally has a firearm stored in his or her vehicle but is required to use the vehicle for business. If the employer’s policy prohibits carrying or possessing firearms while driving on business for the entity, the employer may need to consider a procedure that would allow an employee to check a firearm during his or her shift. If the employer is unable to provide employees this option, the employee is still obligated to adhere to the employer’s policy. Similar considerations may need to be made for employees who are on-call for an emergency.
Employers wanting to prevent volunteers from carrying firearms should adopt a policy stating that the employer will not use a volunteer unless he or she signs an agreement not to possess or carry a firearm while assisting the employer.
As with all personnel policies, the employer should notify and train employees on the specifics of new or modified practices.
MCIT recommends that members with specific questions about posting, notices or weapons policies consult with their county attorney or other legal counsel.
[i] Minnesota Statutes, Section 626.84, Subdivision 2 prohibits political subdivisions from authorizing public employees to carry a firearm on duty unless they are licensed peace officers, county attorneys (with a permit to carry) or assistant county attorneys (with a permit to carry and the permission of the county attorney). Allowing employees to carry non-firearm weapons could also expose the government entity to increased liability. More information about the topic can be found in the MCIT Resource Civilian Employees and Weapons on the Job.