Minnesota gun ruling is latest citing Supreme Court decision

FILE - A Glock handgun is holstered on the side of Kristopher Kranz of Bloomington, Minn., as he listens during public testimony on Aug. 20, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn. A federal court ruling that a Minnesota law prohibiting 18-to-20-year-olds from obtaining permits to carry handguns in public is unconstitutional remained on hold Monday, April 3, 2023, while the state pursues a potential appeal. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)
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By STEVE KARNOWSKI

Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A federal court ruling that a Minnesota law prohibiting 18-to-20-year-olds from obtaining permits to carry handguns in public is unconstitutional remained on hold Monday while the state pursues a potential appeal.

A reluctant U.S. District Judge Katherine Menendez struck down the state law on Friday, citing a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision on gun rights last year. But after the state attorney general’s office filed an emergency motion for a stay, she agreed to hold off, meaning 18-to-20-year-olds still can’t apply for carry permits in Minnesota until the matter is resolved.

The ruling is the latest example how the Supreme Court case, known as the Bruen decision, has upended gun laws nationwide, dividing courts and sowing confusion over what restrictions can remain in force.

The plaintiffs are three gun rights groups, including the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, and three individuals who were over 18 but under 21 when the lawsuit was filed in 2021. They have until Wednesday to file a response. The judge has not set a hearing date.

Menendez said in her order Friday that she was obligated by the Bruen decision to conclude that that Second Amendment guarantees the rights of 18-to-20-year-olds to bear arms in public for self defense.

The Bruen decision, the high court’s biggest gun ruling in more than a decade, held that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense. And it changed the test that lower courts had long used for evaluating challenges to firearm restrictions. The justices said judges should no longer consider whether the law serves pubic interests like protecting public safety. Under the new test, courts must ask whether a gun restriction is consistent with the country’s “historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Menendez concluded that that means the Second Amendment protects the rights of 18-to-20-year-olds to obtain carry permits. But she also wrote that other courts have “struggled with deciphering exactly how to apply Bruen’s instructions.” While Minnesota adopted its age restriction in 2003 over public safety concerns about allowing young adults to carry handguns, she concluded that the high court’s ruling doesn’t allow balancing public safety interests against Second Amendment rights.

“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,” she wrote.

Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office, on behalf of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said district and appeals courts across the country have issued conflicting rulings on the rights of 18-to-20-year-olds to carry firearms outside the home. It said the issue is likely to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. So it asked the judge to stay her order while the office considers an appeal, or at least for 60 days so that state authorities can determine how to responsibly implement the change.

The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus hailed the judge’s ruling as a victory for 18-to-20-year-old adults who want to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms. Bryan Strawser, who chairs the group, said federal courts in Georgia, Tennessee and Texas have ruled the same way.

But gun safety groups said Menendez got the complicated job of interpreting the Bruen ruling wrong.

“Minnesota’s law restricting people under 21 from carrying firearms in public is not only a common-sense way to protect communities, it’s also entirely constitutional,” said Janet Carter, senior director of issues and appeals at Everytown Law. She pointed to a ruling last month from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a Florida law restricting those under 21 from purchasing firearms.

Menendez, however, wrote that it was difficult to square the 11th Circuit’s ruling with the Supreme Court’s, and she noted that the Florida case dealt with gun sales while the Minnesota case is about permits.

David Pucino, deputy chief counsel at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the fact that different courts are coming up with different answers shows they are having trouble applying the new rules. The Minnesota ruling is an example of a judge misunderstanding how to proceed, he said.

“It means that there are questions about what Bruen means and that it will be important for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit some of the cases,” Pucino said.