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A judge ruled Wednesday that people with permits to carry firearms cannot bring guns into the Minnesota State Fair, which opens Thursday.

Ramsey County District Judge Laura Nelson issued the 13-page order denying the request from the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus on behalf of two Twin Cities residents.

Nelson weighed several factors, ultimately concluding that the gun caucus didn't meet the legal threshold required for an order allowing them to carry guns at the fair.

The judge's order noted that judicial orders are to be issued "only in clear cases, reasonably free from doubt." She questioned whether the group even had legal grounds to sue let alone whether the caucus could win after a trial.

Earlier this month, the caucus sued Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, whose agency is providing security at the fair, and the State Agricultural Society, which runs the end-of-summer event.

The fair's website lists "weapons or objects that appear to be weapons" among a host of prohibited items. Signs at entrances say, "Minnesota State Fair bans guns in these premises." For the first time this year, walk-through metal detectors will be at the gates.

The gun owners' lawsuit said that Minnesotans who hold a valid permit to carry a pistol could be unfairly excluded or ejected from the fair. But Nelson said state law didn't create a pathway to sue over the exclusion.

Given that the gun owners' lawsuit is on shaky grounds, the judge said she didn't need to address the larger question of whether the owners were likely to prevail after a trial.

Another factor she analyzed was the nature of the relationship of the parties in the dispute. The judge noted that the courts favor preserving the status quo until a full trial can be held.

On that point, she said the fair has banned weapons since at least 2003 and conducted bag searches since 2016. In past years, she said the plaintiffs — by their own admission — ignored the rule and carried firearms at the fair.

"The difference this year is not in the rule, but rather the increased likelihood that violating it will be detected due to the addition of metal detectors," she wrote.

At a news conference earlier this month, the Gun Owners Caucus said it wanted to ensure that permitted gun carriers had the opportunity to lawfully carry firearms.

Citing the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment protecting the right to bear arms, the suit said the Rev. Tim Christopher, of Anoka, and Gun Owners Caucus member Sarah Cade Hauptman, of Maplewood, "wish to exercise their fundamental, constitutionally and statutorily protected right to carry loaded, operable handguns on their person, at the annual Minnesota State Fair, for lawful purposes including immediate self-defense."

Christopher, 56, who preaches and does mission outreach in north Minneapolis, regularly attends the fair and said he has carried a pistol more or less daily for eight years. Hauptman, 39, a permit-to-carry holder starting in 2013, said she wished to carry at the fair for self-defense.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747