It has been just over three weeks since a change to federal law, signed nine months ago by President Obama, went into effect allowing the laws of the state encompassing a national park to govern whether citizens may legally carry firearms into the park. During the last few weeks, Minnesota Public Radio News has featured several reports on the impact the change will have on visitors to Minnesota’s magnificent national parks which will now be governed by Minnesota state firearm laws.
The only problem with the series is that, even with the nine month lead time, park spokesmen do not yet seem to fully understand the law.
In one report, Voyageurs National Park Superintendent Mike Ward is reported as properly commenting that "[p]eople who wish to take handguns into the park can do so as long as they comply with all applicable Minnesota laws." He correctly cites to Minnesota Statute 624.714 to support this assertion.
Minnesota Statute 624.714, as amended by the Minnesota Citizens' Personal Protection Act of 2003 (MCPPA), provides for the issuance of a Minnesota ‘Permit to Carry’ which generally allows the holder to carry handguns, openly or concealed, about their person throughout the state (subject to exceptions embodied in federal law as well as Minnesota Statutes such as 609.66 and 243.55 none of which apply to parks).
So far, so good then, but the report goes on to quote the park authorities as making the blanket statement that "Minnesota bans rifles, shotguns or BB guns in public places." The authority cited for this proposition is Minnesota Statute 624.7181. This theme is repeated in a second Minnesota Public Radio News article quoting Voyageurs National Park Chief Ranger Jim Hummel as saying that citizens "don't have the authority to bring in a long gun, a rifle, shotgun, [or] BB gun, unless it's in a motor vehicle, [or] a boat, [and] cased and unloaded."
And while Minnesota Statute 624.7181 subdivision 2 does state that "Whoever carries a BB gun, rifle, or shotgun on or about the person in a public place is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.", subdivision 1(b)(3) of the same statute provides that the "carry" thus prohibited does not include "the carrying of a BB gun, rifle, or shotgun by a person who has a permit under section 624.714."
However, under chapter 97 of the Minnesota Statutes (Hunting), 97B.045 prohibits the transportation of a loaded or uncased firearm in a motor vehicle and makes the exemption of permit holders applicable only to handguns.
Therefore, a visitor to Voyageurs National Park who possesses a valid carry permit pursuant to Minnesota Statute 624.714 would not be prohibited from possessing loaded and uncased rifles, shotguns or BB guns in the park while on foot but would be prohibited from possessing uncased and loaded firearms while in their car, truck or boat.
Why is this important? Because even though 99.99% of the law-abiding gun carriers who visit Voyageurs will only be in possession of handguns and those who are in possession of long guns will be arriving in motor vehicles requiring the long guns to be unloaded and encased initially, it is very important that those in charge of the parks understand the intricacies of the law they are charged with enforcing.
UPDATE: As you will see below, Voyageurs National Park Superintendent Mike Ward quickly contacted me in order to insure that his department was fully aware of any intricacies of state law that might lead them to improperly cite a citizen who was otherwise complying with state law. He was a great person to work with and I am proud that we have such a common sense administrator at Voyageurs!
And while I was focusing on the (on foot) hiking and camping aspects of most national parks, Mr. Ward's particular concerns were primarily directed toward the almost exclusively 'water park' nature of Voyageurs, After discussing this, I realized that the hunting focused, motor-vehicle transportation prohibition on rifles, shotguns and BB guns in Minnesota Statute 97B.045 would be more applicable in Voyageurs than most parks since the majority of visitors arrive in cars or trucks and subsequently enter boats.
I should have noted this originally since Joel Rosenberg specifically mentioned it in footnote 67 of his quintessential book on Minnesota's carry law, "Everything You Need to Know About (Legally) Carrying a Handgun in Minnesota" which every Minnesota gun owner should have a copy of and read at least once a year.
A Historical Note Along With a Well Deserved “Thank You”: Since the law signed by President Obama requires that national parks comply with the applicable laws of the state which encompasses the park, national park carry in Minnesota would potentially not be possible if Minnesota allowed parks to ban lawful carry. In fact, prior to the passage of the MCPPA, Minnesota Administrative Rule 6100.0800 did just that.
However, in 2005, Andrew Rothman, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of Defensive Firearm Instructors (MADFI) contacted the DNR and made a formal request for their legal team to review the administrative rule in light of the changes to state law embodied by the MCPPA.
As a result of MADFI's formal request and subsequent to a review by their legal team, DNR Manager of State Park Operations Ron Hains confirmed to MADFI that the MCPPA overruled the park’s administrative rule.
Since that time, tens of thousands of permit holders have safely and responsibly enjoyed Minnesota’s state and local parks and now, thanks to MADFI’s efforts in 2005, they can also enjoy the beautiful national parks located within Minnesota.
I think I speak for all of us when I say "Thank you!"