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Gun owners group sues over firearms ban at the Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus is seeking an injunction as a new security agreement with Ramsey County is set to begin this year.

ST PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota group that advocates for the rights of gun owners is suing the organizers of the Minnesota State Fair for its policy banning gun owners with valid permits from carrying their firearms during the fair.

The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus filed suit in Ramsey County court on Tuesday, seeking an injunction against the fair's gun policy.

The lawsuit names the defendants as the State Agricultural Society, which is in charge of the Minnesota State Fair, as well as Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, after the county agreed to provide security at the fair in 2021.

In addition to the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, the plaintiffs also include two individuals, both regular fairgoers, who are seeking the ability to legally carry a firearm onto the fairgrounds.

"Plaintiffs wish to exercise their fundamental, constitutionally and statutorily protected right to carry loaded, operable handguns on their person, at the annual Minnesota State Fair, for lawful purposes including immediate self-defense," the suit reads. "But they cannot because of the laws, regulations, policies, practices, and customs that Defendants have been enforcing and continue to actively enforce today."

The suit claims the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Minnesota law "supersedes ... any inconsistent local regulation," stating that the State Agricultural Society is a government entity. The suit also claims the policy, which has been in place for years, was never properly established in the State Agricultural Society's bylaws for the fair.

View the official court documents below:

The Minnesota State Fair previously ran its own security until the recent retirement of its police chief. Last month, the fair entered into an agreement with the sheriff's office to provide security, which includes increased law enforcement officers, private security, and metal detectors at the gates for the first time.

The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus chair, Bryan Strawser, said the addition of metal detectors led his group to draft the lawsuit. 

"This installation of metal detectors is the bridge too far," Strawser said. "It's clear their intent is to keep out law-abiding permit holders, along with those carrying illegally, and that's not allowed under state law."

RELATED: Private security, metal detectors part of the Minnesota State Fair safety plan

Court documents filed with the lawsuit include a July letter from attorneys for the State Agricultural Society, responding to the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus. The letter notes that an average of 180,000 people visit the fair each day.

"The State Agricultural Society has the obligation and the authority to impose rules and policies that prioritize the health and safety of fairgoers," the attorneys wrote. "To that end, the State Agricultural Society has consistently maintained the policy that private citizens may not bring weapons onto the fairgrounds during the fair."

Minnesota State Fair officials also released a brief statement to KARE 11 on Tuesday afternoon.

"The State Fair does not comment on pending litigation," a Minnesota State Fair spokesperson said. "We will maintain our time-honored Minnesota tradition of peaceful, family-friendly fairs by protecting the safety and security of our guests."

In a separate statement, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher noted that the State Agricultural Society is responsible for setting the admission policies.

"The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office has law enforcement responsibility inside the State Fairgrounds once attendees have entered one of the public gates," Fletcher said.

Constitutional law expert David Schultz, who has written on the Second Amendment and teaches at both Hamline University and the University of Minnesota, said he does not expect the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus to succeed in the lawsuit. Specifically, Schultz pointed to the landmark 1981 Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, which said the Second Amendment right to bear arms was not "unlimited." 

"Fairly unlikely that a lawsuit would prevail, in terms of forcing them to be able to carry guns," Schultz said. "Current Supreme Court precedent says the government may pass laws or may adopt regulations, if they're narrowly tailored to be able to promote public safety."

RELATED: Minnesota State Fair announces new vendors and attractions for 2021

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