While the National Football League continues its fight to ban off-duty police officers from taking guns into Vikings games, Minnesota's other professional teams and venues allow and even appreciate the extra, unofficial security.
Minnesota is the first and only state in which the NFL's 2013 ban has faced a legal challenge. The league lost round one when Hennepin County Judge Ivy Bernhardson ruled that a 2003 state law requires the NFL to let off-duty officers carry handguns into games. The NFL, however, doesn't believe that the Legislature meant to require a private establishment to admit a peace officer or anyone else carrying a weapon.
Last month, the NFL took its case to the state Court of Appeals. That court is likely to rule before the Vikings' season starts in September.
The two local law enforcement groups that sued the NFL over the ban and kicked off the legal wrestling match believe officers have the right to carry and that the public expects them to always be on duty, even at a sporting event.
Matt Hoy, the Twins' senior vice president of operations, agrees. "From my perspective, if a person has dedicated their life to serve the public and be somebody to jump in if there is a problem, I don't want to take away that vehicle to protect fans," he said.
Some teams require off-duty officers to check with security if they bring a gun into a stadium or arena. St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild and a variety of entertainment events, asks officers to keep weapons in their vehicles, said an Xcel spokeswoman. If they absolutely need to bring them inside, officers must alert security and supply their specific seat number.
Before the NFL ban, the Vikings allowed off-duty officers to bring in guns. Vikings spokesman Jeff Anderson said the team has great respect for local law enforcement. He deferred a request for further comment to the NFL.
The Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys, Texas' two NFL teams, avoided a legal scrum over the ban last year. The NFL exempted the teams because a state law overrides league policy.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league won't comment during ongoing litigation. He did supply the Star Tribune with a letter that Jeffrey Miller, the league's chief security officer, wrote to the head of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association in October 2013. The association and Minneapolis' Police Federation filed the suit a few months later against the NFL.
Off duty, out of touch?
Miller wrote the gun ban, which was adopted after consideration of advice from a wide range of law enforcement and security experts.
In 2012, on average, more than 500 civilian security personnel and 150 on-duty uniform officers worked at every game, all in contact with each other, Miller wrote.
Off-duty officers carrying guns could create confusion for on-duty law enforcers and increase the potential for "blue-on-blue" response confrontations, he wrote. Moreover, off-duty officers aren't included in the on-site chain of command or bound by department on-duty policies that restrict use of alcohol and behavior standards, he wrote.
Miller also argued that Minnesota's law on permit possession and use of concealed weapons doesn't prohibit a private establishment from banning guns.
During last month's hearing before the state Court of Appeals, NFL attorney Bruce Jones reiterated that argument. Judge Michelle Larkin said the Legislature carved specific exclusions describing who can carry a gun onto private property, but the law doesn't specifically mention off-duty police officers.
"It would be an absurd result if [the Legislature] listed specific exclusions, but now a private establishment says it has the right to exclude off-duty officers," she said. "The Legislature recognized that the rights of police officers [are] greater than permit holders."
Cort Holten, who represented the police groups at the hearing, said the gun law is unambiguous, "so what right do we have to reinterpret it?"
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and the New York Police Department Sergeant's Union have publicly supported the gun ban suit. The NFL's authority to ban handguns is the crux of the suit, "but who will be the next group that wants to create a similar ban?" asked Lt. John Delmonico, former president of Minneapolis' Police Federation.
The suit against the NFL was filed in February 2014, after the Vikings finished their first year of play at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota. The team will play there another year until their new Minneapolis facility opens for the 2016 season. Any court ruling likely would apply to the new stadium.
Different venues, rules
Each major sports team and venue has its own rules regarding off-duty officers bringing guns to games. For Gopher football games and other events at TCF Bank Stadium, officers need permission to bring them in.
The Timberwolves basketball team adheres to policies set forth by the National Basketball Association, said Brad Ruiter, the team's vice president of communications. If off-duty officers bring a gun to a game, they need to check in with Target Center security, which then connects with the Timberwolves security director to verify if that person is an accredited police officer.
In almost every case, the National Hockey League defers to local and federal gun laws regarding the right of off-duty officers to have guns on private property, said John Dellapina, the NHL's vice president of communications. In general, the NHL supports gun-free arenas, he said.
Hoy said the Twins organization strongly supports the military and people who serve the United States, "and we don't view first responders much differently."