The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that the National Football League can ban off-duty officers from bringing guns into stadiums on game day.
But in sending the case back to Hennepin County District Court, the court also made it clear that it is leaving the door open for the ban to be overturned.
Minnesota is the first and only state in which the NFL’s 2013 ban has faced a legal challenge. The dispute began in February 2014, when two local law enforcement groups sued the NFL, saying they believe officers have the right to carry and that the public expects them to always be on duty, even at a sporting event.
The league lost round one when Hennepin County Judge Ivy Bernhardson ruled that a 2003 state law called the Citizens’ Personal Protection Act (PPA) requires the NFL to let off-duty officers carry handguns into games. The NFL had argued that the Legislature didn’t intend to require a private establishment to admit a peace officer or anyone else carrying a weapon.
The Appeals Court was asked to decide the narrow question of whether the NFL’s firearms ban violated the PPA.
The PPA’s main purpose was to change some wording with respect to permits to possess and carry firearms. The act significantly limits the rights and remedies of property owners who wish to exclude people from carrying firearms from their property, the ruling said. Peace officers are specifically excluded from the permitting requirements of the PPA.
The Appeals Court said that the district court erred when it concluded that the PPA prevents private-property owners from excluding armed off-duty officers. It said it seems unlikely that the Legislature would choose to restrict the rights of private-property owners to exclude a permit holder who is carrying a firearm, but not an off-duty peace officer who is carrying a firearm.
The filers of the lawsuit have argued that interpreting the PPA as applying to peace officers promotes an absurd result that the Legislature could not have intended.
Monday’s ruling shouldn’t be construed as the final word on the subject, the Appeals Court ruling cautioned. “We merely hold that any such right is not governed by the PPA,” the ruling said. “Other provisions of state or federal law may apply.”
The Vikings are in their second year of play at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota. The team will play there this season, until its new Minneapolis facility opens for the 2016 season. Court rulings on the NFL’s gun ban are likely to apply to the new stadium.