Leslie LeCuyer knew the City Council meeting in Foley would be contentious, with townspeople in the central Minnesota community arguing over a city worker’s employment status.
LeCuyer, a council member, didn’t know until after the fall meeting, however, that someone may have quietly brought in a loaded handgun.
Even though she’s a self-described gun enthusiast, LeCuyer later suggested the city put up a sign forbidding guns from the premises like those found near the doors of so many businesses around the state. She was shocked to learn that, legally, the city couldn’t.
People sometimes come to City Hall angry, she pointed out.
“Our decisions can impact people: Whether or not they can build onto their home, whether they can put up a building on their property,” she said. “That’s what we put our name on the line to do. But we don’t put our name on the line to be killed … People have to do these jobs. We don’t want it to be so unsafe that no one will do it anymore.”
State law has quietly prevented most cities from banning legal guns from many public buildings since the Legislature changed handgun laws in 2003. Guns can be banned in private businesses and other public buildings including schools, psychiatric hospitals and courthouses.
Some cities passed their own rules anyway. Crystal, for instance, has an ordinance prohibiting dangerous weapons in city buildings and on city property.
City Manager Anne Norris said the law hasn’t presented a problem there. That might be because Crystal is a “charter city” which League of Minnesota Cities lobbyist Anne Finn said gives it more flexibility under state law to establish more of its own regulations.
“To date we haven’t had any issues with it,” Norris said.
Virginia also prohibits people from possessing or controlling a pistol on city property.
The League of Minnesota Cities has taken a stream of calls over the years from city governments trying to find ways to discourage people from bringing guns to city buildings, Finn said. Their advice in a blog post includes pointing out that cities may regulate the discharge of firearms and that guns can be banned in city halls attached to or part of a courthouse.
At the State Capitol, permit holders who provide advance notice to the commissioner of Public Safety are allowed to carry firearms, though some lawmakers are pushing to change that.
While the League of Cities hasn’t taken a position on permit-to-carry laws, it did argue that cities should have the option to ban guns from city buildings, noting that most city leaders agree on keeping local control over such questions, Finn said.
The league would be ready to lobby on that point if gun legislation comes up in the Legislature again, she added, but they are not anticipating bringing it up this session.
“I think most cities have sort of resigned themselves to accepting that they don’t have the authority [to ban guns], but they would like to have it,” Finn said.
Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said it’s important to keep laws consistent across the state so permit-holders know what to expect.
“If we turn it over to cities and counties to make up their own minds, nobody is going to know what the situation is,” he said. Changing the laws for cities isn’t necessary, he said, because allowing guns on city property hasn’t presented a problem.
“Why would we want to address something that isn’t a problem?” he said. “We’re a gun and a hunting state … we really support the right to keep and bear arms.”
Like many cities, Foley has a police officer in the council chambers, especially when a contentious subject is on a meeting agenda.
LeCuyer said she wasn’t fearful during the last contentious meeting, but it made her think. An avid hunter, she said she feels safe around guns and acquiring a permit to carry a weapon is on her bucket list. It simply hadn’t been a priority.
“It got higher now, though, because frankly all of us on the City Council also could carry and have them openly displayed at the council,” she said.