Gun owners in St. Paul, Minnesota would be required to store their firearms unloaded and locked up away from ammunition under a proposal floated by the city’s mayor and a member of the city council, despite the fact that the ordinance flies in the face of what the Supreme Court has previously said about the constitutionality of similar mandates.
According to the MN Gun Owners Caucus, the proposed ordinance not only suffers from a severe constitutional defect, but also runs afoul of the state’s firearm preemption law. Under that law the state legislature “preempts all authority of a home rule charter or statutory city including a city of the first class, county, town, municipal corporation, or other governmental subdivision, or any of their instrumentalities, to regulate firearms, ammunition, or their respective components to the complete exclusion of any order, ordinance or regulation by them.”
That would appear to cover any locally-imposed storage mandates, but one local anti-gun activist pointed out that the city is claiming that they’re not necessarily regulating storage itself, but trying to regulate the discharge of firearms; one of the few areas where localities can still set their own ordinances.
There is a lot of historic support for safe storage laws and storing ammunition separately from firearms. This one is easy to defend under Bruen. And the MN preemption law allows cities to regulate discharge. St Paul obviously wrote this anticipating a legal challenge. https://t.co/hOIcNM2DYX
— Megan Walsh (@MeganWalshGVP) April 17, 2023
Walsh is the head of the University of Minnesota Law School’s “Gun Violence Prevention Clinic”, which was unveiled back in January with the support of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s. The clinic’s mission is to promote “gun violence prevention through strategic litigation”, but Walsh says she had nothing to do with the drafting of this ordinance. Instead, as the Pioneer Press reported, the ordinance was crafted with the help of Moms Demand Action.
While Walsh claims that the proposed ordinance was clearly written with a preemption lawsuit in mind, I don’t think St. Paul will be able to easily get around the fact that storing firearms and discharging them are two very different things; only one of which is allowed to be regulated by the state’s political subdivisions.
Interpreting "discharge" to include "storage' is ridiculous.
Such mental gymnastics would permit the city to regulate anything related to firearms/ammo. Purchase, transport, transfer, etc.
Expanding the interpretation beyond it's clear definition renders the statute meaningless. https://t.co/1oRln652XW
— Rob Doar (@robdoar) April 17, 2023
And there’s really no getting around the fact that SCOTUS declared in the Heller decision that storage mandates requiring guns and ammo to be kept separate infringe on the right to self-defense in the home. Not only did Heller render Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns unconstitutional, it also struck down a storage mandate that’s almost identical to the one proposed in St. Paul. From the Heller decision:
We must also address the District’s requirement (as applied to respondent’s handgun) that firearms in the home be rendered and kept inoperable at all times. This makes it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional.
… In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense. Assuming that Heller is not disqualified from the exercise of Second Amendment rights, the District must permit him to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home.
I haven’t seen the actual text of the proposed ordinance in St. Paul, but I’m guessing there’s a provision in there that “allows” gun owners to keep a gun on their person or “under their control”, but requires them to keep their guns locked up and unloaded at all other times. We’ve seen similar language put on the books in states like California since the Heller decision, and so far they’ve withstood judicial scrutiny, but we haven’t seen a major challenge to those laws decided since the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen last year that laid out the “history, text, and tradition” test lower courts must use when assessing the constitutionality of a particular gun law. Under that test, even the loophole created in these storage mandates isn’t likely to be enough of a fit to historical analogues to pass constitutional muster, especially when the ordinance prevents quick access to a firearm in cases of self-defense. You shouldn’t have to sleep with a gun on your hip to be able to protect yourself in your home from an intruder who breaks in at 2 a.m., but that’s the only way St. Paul residents would be able to lawfully do so if this ordinance becomes law.
The proposed storage mandate is scheduled to be heard at the St. Paul City Council’s meeting this Wednesday, and council members should get an earful from residents objecting to this terrible idea. Violent crime may be on the rise in the city, but targeting legal gun owners and preventing them from protecting themselves in their own homes is a horrible and unconstitutional way to make the city a safer place.