FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. - The signs posted at every entrance to the Great Minnesota Get Together and their messages in large black letters are hard to miss: MINNESOTA STATE FAIR BANS GUNS IN THESE PREMISES.
But some fairgoers wonder whether the signs belong there at all.
KARE 11 viewer Ezra Moore asked our Verify team to dig into his question about whether the folks who run the fair have the legal authority to refuse admission to Minnesotans with permits allowing them to legally carry firearms. He says he’s scoured the state law on gun permits and found nothing to support the Fair’s position.
He’s not alone. A quick Google search revealed plenty of lively discussion on both sides of the issue.
Much of the debate focuses on whether the State Fair and its operating body, the Minnesota Agricultural Society, are government entities.
That’s important - because private businesses and employers generally can restrict firearms on their property, regardless of whether the person possessing them has a permit to carry or not.
Most state and local government offices, on the other hand, can’t restrict gun permit holders from carrying firearms on public property and buildings.
The Agricultural Society is organized as a corporation under Minnesota law. Its main function is to operate the State Fair to promote agriculture, manufacturing, stock breeding and other industry. Neither the Society nor the fair receive taxpayer dollars.
For their part, fair officials say state law gives them considerable discretion to adopt rules and policies necessary to assure the protection, health, safety and comfort of all fairgoers. They say that was reaffirmed in a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
State Fair general manager Jerry Hammer says public safety is the Fair’s most important obligation. Allowing weapons on the grounds would seriously compromise safety procedures revamped after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he added.
So what happens if a fairgoer with a permit to carry does attempt to bring a firearm past the entrance gates?
Hammer says such incidents are rare. But the few times that’s happened, visitors complied with requests to leave their weapons outside the fairgrounds.