During President Obama’s health care rally in Minneapolis, 32-year-old Josh Hendrickson showed up carrying two loaded pistols, one in a holster under his shirt and another in a back pocket. He spent the next seven hours standing in front of the Target Center, where the rally was held. When questioned by police, he showed them his license to carry and conceal a weapon under state law. He was then questioned by Minneapolis police and a Secret Service agent. This incident shows the conflict between a constitutional right and the need for security.
Why Did Josh Hendrickson Bring the Guns?
Hendrickson explained that he brought guns to the rally not to cause trouble, but to make a constitutional point and exercise his rights under the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. He justified his action by stating that when he typically leaves the house, "I grab my wallet, my keys and my gun. . . The Second Amendment isn't suspended just because the president's in town."1
Is This an Isolated Incident?
As President Obama has been holding rallies across the country in recent weeks, there have been several similar reports of people showing up at these rallies carrying concealed guns. While Hendrickson stated he was not motivated by those events, he said he sympathized with those attempting to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms.
Is It Legal to Cary a Concealed Gun?
The Second Amendment of the US Constitution grants US citizens the right to keep and bear arms, meaning that owning and wearing a gun is a constitutionally-protected right. However, the government can regulate and set limits on this right.
There are laws for acquiring and carrying guns. But there are separate rules and measures for concealing them. In the US, citizens can carry a handgun and other weapons in a concealed manner in public. Laws regulating concealed weapons vary state by state in terms of residency and age requirements and special application procedures and training.
There are states such as Vermont that don’t require any permits for concealed weapons at all. However, Wisconsin, Illinois and Washington D.C. prohibit concealed weapons completely. Some states have reciprocal recognition agreements of the concealed-carry privileges and rights, meaning that they honor the other state's concealed-carry permits. A few states don’t recognize any licenses from other states.
In Minnesota, where this rally occurred, the law allows a person to carry concealed weapons in public. Minneapolis Police Sgt. Jesse Garcia explained that even though what Hendrickson did was not actually illegal, "it was probably one of those days he could have left [his gun] at home. He still retained his Second Amendment rights, but he's going to be questioned."2
Representative Larry Howes, the House sponsor of Minnesota's conceal and carry law, advocated that Hendrickson should have made his point without carrying a loaded gun to the rally. "Carry an empty holster," he suggested.3 While what Hedrickson did wasn't illegal, Howes explained that it is virtually impossible to write legislation to cover every possible situation, such as making sure concealed weapons weren't taken to a presidential rally.
Rules regulating gun control need to be balanced with the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Likewise, Second Amendment rights need to be balanced with the need for security. While a state law may not specifically make the act of bringing of a concealed weapon to a presidential event illegal, it is reasonable to understand why such an action would be examined and questioned.
Opt-out Carry Provisions
Because having a weapon is a constitutional right, not allowing someone to exercise this given right may be breaking the law. Therefore some states have specified in the law itself places where carrying a concealed weapon is not permitted. Also, businesses can post specific signs (the language and format vary by state) that prohibit carrying a concealed gun. By posting the signs, businesses create areas where it is illegal to carry a concealed handgun similar to schools, hospitals and public events. These are called "Opt-out carry" provisions.
These provisions have been widely contested. Some argue that these rules don't reduce criminal activity. Opponents claim these statutes are unconstitutional because if someone doesn't see the sign and brings a concealed gun to a place where he is prohibited, his license may be revoked. Further, if someone must leave their weapon in their car, there's a danger that it will be stolen.
Therefore, carrying a concealed weapon to certain events, such as a presidential rally is between the lines of legal and prohibited conduct. States can have specific laws not allowing weapons in certain regions (ex. school zones) and places that the law doesn't specify (ex. rallies) can attempt to post signs. In the meantime, while the Second Amendment isn't suspended when the President is in town, it still may be best to leave your gun at home.
1 Mike Kaszuba, Protester Defends Bringing Guns to Obama Rally, Star Tribune, Sept. 15, 2009, http://www.startribune.com/local/59288822.html accessed Oct. 5, 2009
Questions for Your Attorney
- I'm going to be traveling through several states by car, and taking guns with me. Which state laws apply to my situation?
- What's the severity of a crime for improperly carrying a gun in our state? Are there any fines? What if the situation involves a gray area, as described above?
- Is there any legal relief available if someone is detained by the police for carrying a gun, but was doing so within the limits of the law?