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Minnesota’s age limit for carrying handguns ruled unconstitutional

Concealed gun carry. (Gus Chan/The Plain Dealer/TNS)

A federal judge has moved to strike down the Minnesota law barring 18- to 20-year-olds from obtaining permits to carry handguns in public.

The decision, released Friday, comes nearly two years after three young adults teamed up with three gun-rights advocacy groups to file a lawsuit against former Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and the sheriffs of the plaintiffs’ respective counties — Douglas, Mille Lacs and Washington — arguing that Minnesota’s age restrictions violate their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

In a 50-page order, U.S. District Judge Katherine Menendez ruled for the plaintiffs and wrote that her decision was driven by a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last June. But she also expressed concerns about that standard, which requires governments limiting gun rights to show that their laws are “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearms regulation.”

“Second Amendment jurisprudence now focuses a lens entirely on the choices made in a very different time, by a very different American people,” Menendez wrote.

She added that the Supreme Court opinion, which struck down New York’s strict limits on carrying guns outside the home, “makes clear that today’s policy considerations play no role in an analytical framework that begins and ends more than two hundred years ago.”

The state Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the public safety commissioner, filed a motion Friday asking the court to delay enforcement of the order until an appeal is decided or the state has 60 days to update its processes and technology.

Menendez said the court will schedule a hearing on the matter and asked the plaintiffs for a response to the motion by the end of Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.

A 2003 state law overhauling Minnesota’s permit-to-carry standards barred anyone younger than 21 from obtaining a permit. There are exceptions to the law: Individuals don’t need a permit to carry a handgun at home or work, or traveling between the two locations. Nor do they need one for hunting or target shooting.

In their 2021 suit, plaintiffs Kristin Worth, Austin Dye and Axel Anderson said they wanted to obtain permits to carry handguns for self-defense, citing safety concerns during late-night work shifts and other daily tasks. All three were between the ages of 18 and 20 and still are, according to the order.

The gun-rights advocates joining the suit — the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, the Second Amendment Foundation and the Firearms Policy Coalition — said they have thousands of members in the 18-20 age range who would obtain permits and carry handguns if legally allowed to do so.

“This is an important ruling,” Bryan Strawser, chair of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said Sunday. “It makes it very clear that 18-, 19- and 20-year-old adults have the same Second Amendment rights as 21-and-older adults. That’s consistent with how we think about other constitutional rights.”

Strawser said they are reviewing the attorney general’s motion but will likely oppose the request this week.

National and state gun safety groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Minnesota’s current age limit last fall, pointing to data suggesting that those in the 18- to 20-year-old age group pose a higher risk of violent crimes and suicides.

“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,” Menendez wrote.

Strawser noted that since last summer’s Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, courts in other states such as Texas and Tennessee have lowered age requirements for carrying laws to include 18- to 20-year-olds.

Requests for permits in Minnesota currently are not automatically granted. An applicant must prove they have received training and undergo a background check.

State lawmakers are considering a trio of bills aimed at reducing gun violence, including a measure that would close a legal loophole by expanding criminal background checks for pistols and semiautomatic military-style assault weapons sold at shows, online or transferred.


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