By Rochelle Olson
HENNEPIN COUNTY, Minn. — Minnesota law requires the National Football League to allow off-duty police officers to carry handguns into games despite the league's year-old gun ban, a Hennepin County judge ruled Thursday.
Although Judge Ivy Bernhardson determined that the law trumps the NFL rule, she left undecided how and when the law will be enforced.
For now, that means off-duty officers should leave their guns at home, because only on-duty police and private security working at games will be allowed to bring in handguns.
Earlier this year, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, as well as the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, sued the Vikings, the NFL and the University of Minnesota over a conflict between a 2003 state law and the new NFL policy. The law enforcement organizations represent about 10,000 officers statewide.
State law allows off-duty licensed peace officers to carry weapons into private establishments even if the businesses or organizations ban guns. Last season, the NFL implemented a new policy forbidding handguns for all but officers and private security working at games.
In the coming weeks, the university is expected to argue that it has autonomy under the state Constitution to ban guns for Vikings games in the Golden Gophers' stadium. The Vikings are playing at the university until the 2016 season, when the team's new stadium will be completed.
Despite Thursday's ruling, licensed off-duty officers can't carry guns into NFL games until further court action. In a statement, the university announced plans to "maintain the status quo with respect to the restriction of weapons in TCF Bank Stadium." The NFL issued a similar statement saying the policy will "remain in place" pending further court action.
Cort Holten, an attorney for the police organizations, said he was pleased with Bernhardson's finding that the officers' right to carry handguns supersedes the NFL ban. "It was a four-square interpretation of the law and our arguments," Holten said.
For example, he said, the judge rejected the NFL's argument that a ticket to enter a game is revocable because print on the back states that "admission may be refused or withdrawn or the ticket holder ejected" at the sole discretion of the club or stadium.
The judge has yet to set dates for further action on the case.
In the meantime, she declined to demand that off-duty officers be allowed to carry handguns into Vikings games.
Bernhardson said the officers have alternative options for following games by watching TV and the Internet or listening to the radio. "In addition, active licensed peace officers could choose to attend Vikings games without their weapons until the judgment in this matter is final," she wrote in the 15-page order.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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