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St. Cloud Case: Long Gun Carry and State Preemption

A man was stopped and then ticketed by St. Cloud police, for openly carrying a rifle in public. Now he’s suing the city, saying the ticket was illegal, because he has a Minnesota permit to carry a pistol. What does the law say?

We asked GOCRA’s founder, Professor Joseph E. Olson, to explain.

Note: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE!

This is general information and commentary. Every case is different: consult your attorney before taking any action that could expose you to legal jeopardy.

On November 17, 2014, Tyler Gottwalt was stopped by St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids police on the Sauk Rapids Regional Bridge, because he was carrying an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle on his back.

That stop was legal: Under Minnesota law (624.7181), carrying a rifle in a public place is generally forbidden. But there is an exception: it IS legal for a person to carry a long gun in public, if the person has a Minnesota Permit to Carry a Pistol.

Tyler Gottwalt did have a carry permit. Once the officers verified that fact, that should have been the end of the incident.

And for the Sauk Rapids Police officers, that was the end of the incident. They consulted with their County Attorney’s office, and quickly concluded that Tyler hadn’t broken any laws!

The St. Cloud cops were more stubborn. They cited Tyler for carrying a rifle in public, in violation of a St. Cloud ordinance that requires a long gun to be cased or broken apart.

But here’s the problem: St. Cloud isn’t allowed to enforce any ordinance about carrying guns that is different from state law. That’s called state preemption, and I was there at the Capitol, helping to pass that preemption law, back in 1985. It’s been state law ever since.

Again, cities and counties cannot regulate guns! That’s why a county judge threw out the citation. That’s why Tyler is suing the police and the city for false arrest. And that’s why he will win.

There are ordinances like this all over the state. We’ve been able to work with a number of cities to voluntarily remove them. The others, it seems, need to be slapped down in court. We hope that other cities will learn from St. Cloud’s mistake and do the right thing before they end up in hot water and wind up costing their taxpayers money.

Here’s the lawsuit filing: Gottwalt v. Oxton, et al.

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