Ride a Metro Transit bus and you’ll see passengers get on with just about anything and everything. Most items are fairly benign, although sometimes bulky: backpacks, luggage, strollers and shopping carts. The other day a rider boarded with a large cardboard box overflowing with an assortment of whatnots perhaps collected from garage sales and thrift stores.

Then there are times people get on with items that really grab your attention.

A few months ago, a man boarded a southbound Route 14 bus on West Broadway in north Minneapolis with a handgun strapped around his waist — right there in plain view. Sure, it was holstered, but knowing he was packing heat made for an unnerving ride. Needless to say the Drive watched that guy like a hawk.

As unsettling as that was, it turns out it’s perfectly legal. And no, it didn’t make me feel safer.

“Anyone who is legally in possession of a firearm and carrying it legally may do so on Metro Transit vehicles,” said Metro Transit Deputy Chief A.J. Olson.

Minnesota state law says that anybody with a permit to carry can have a gun almost anywhere in the public domain, except in private establishments such as businesses, churches, restaurants, stadiums and other places that hang special signs that say guns are not allowed.

Of course, we know the bus is a very public place. So, per law, Metro Transit and the suburban transit providers, including the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, Maple Grove Transit, SouthWest Transit and Plymouth Metrolink, cannot ban them from buses and trains. They tried that in Madison, Wis., only to have the Supreme Court rule that the city’s bus service must allow bus passengers to carry concealed weapons.

The topic of guns on city buses surfaced last week when a man with a gun tried to get on a Metro Transit bus, then reportedly ran inside Patrick Henry High School. The man’s action led to a lockdown at the school. The subject was also in the news last fall when four people were wounded by gunfire in a north Minneapolis shooting, including a teenage boy critically wounded on a Metro Transit bus.

However, people carrying guns don’t seem to be a huge issue for Metro Transit, said agency spokesman Howie Padilla.

“It has not been one of the most prominent calls that police respond to,” he said. “Only in rare occasions do we get calls on that.”

Naturally the question is: How do you know who’s carrying legally and who isn’t?

Bus drivers are not allowed to carry while on duty, but they do have direct access to police to report suspicious activity. So do riders. In the case at Henry High, it was passengers on the bus who called the police. Riders who see a gun and feel uneasy can alert their operator. Or they can use Metro Transit’s “Text for Safety” feature on the agency’s app to discreetly report concerns directly to trained agency staff who can respond by text, and, if needed, send police.

Police responding can check whether the person has a valid permit to carry a firearm. If not, then it’s a crime.

Gun carriers can’t be drunk, high or commit other crimes on board. “If this guy were waving it around, that would be a different story,” said Padilla, noting that would constitute an assault.

Riding the bus is sort of like being at the airport: See something, say something. “We depend on our passengers to be our eyes and ears,” Padilla said.


Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.