In the 2009 session, the Minnesota legislature amended the law to allow firearms to be transported in motor vehicles without being cased, but only in certain situations. The Hunter Education News (Fall 2009) issued by the Enforcement Division of the Minnesota DNR, stated it best:
The 2009 Legislative session caught us all by surprise. A State Law that has been in effect since 1917, was modified to allow for uncased firearms (long guns) in or on motor vehicles under certain circumstances, like hunting and target shooting…Our message continues to be: The practice of casing firearms before transporting in/on motor vehicle has many benefits.
The long standing law was that a firearm had to be unloaded and fully cased when transported in a vehicle, or unloaded and in a locked trunk of the car. The purpose of the law was really twofold. One, it reduced the opportunity for violating other game laws, such as road hunting and poaching. Secondly and as a safety precaution, it acted as a final check to make sure the firearm was actually unloaded before it was placed in a vehicle.
Now as the law reads generally, you can transport an unloaded, uncased firearm in a vehicle when, “hunting on private or public land; or traveling to or from a site the person intends to hunt lawfully that day or has hunted lawfully that day, or at a shooting range.” In other words, I can put my uncased, unloaded rifle in along side of me as I am driving, with my fully loaded magazine within hands reach, when I leave home to travel twenty-five miles to the place I intend to hunt that day.
Now before I get to the additional restrictions included in the new law, let’s just consider my example a bit more. It’s deer hunting season and I drive twenty-five miles to the place I will be hunting that day. I left home at sunrise because I was a bit lazy about getting up, but not to worry, because I decided to take all back roads, just to see enjoy the drive. Driving down a deserted township road a huge buck is standing in the middle of the road. All I have to do is “lock and load” then slowly open my window and shoot; it’s a trophy buck!
I could go into more detail, like about the house that was beyond the buck, or the car cresting the incline in the road as I shot, or a host of other catastrophic events that could have occurred, but I think the point is made; because of the convenience and temptation the new law offers, I violated one or more game laws; I am officially a slob hunter and uncaught criminal.
Back to the new law. Although you can transport your firearm in a car uncased in the situations described earlier, there are restrictions. Your firearm must be cased if you are:
1) within Anoka, Hennepin, or Ramsey County;
2) within an area where the discharge of a firearm has been prohibited under section 471.633;
3) within the boundaries of a home rule charter or statutory city with a population of 2,500 or more;
4) on school grounds; or
5) otherwise restricted under section 97A.091, 97B.081, or 97B.086.
What? Where? How? Restrictions number 1 and 4 are kind of self defining, but what about the other three? Number two requires the firearm to be cased where discharge of a firearm has been prohibited by another statute. What does Section 471.633 reference? It says, “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,” may regulate the discharge of firearms. Restriction three makes mention of requiring your firearm to be cased when you are in a home rule charter or statutory city with a population of 2,500 or more. So restrictions 2 and 3 relate to types of cities. What is a home rule charter city, or a statutory city, or a city of the first class and how do you know if any of the “governmental subdivisions” have prohibited the discharge of firearms?
And then we have restriction 5. If you are driving through a state game refuge, including a state park, you would be required to stop your vehicle and properly case your rifle or shotgun. Or, if you intend to use a spotlight at night to look for wild game, or under the same thought, prefer to use night vision equipment instead of a bright spot light to look for wild game, and you have a firearm in your vehicle, it must be unloaded, fully cased and in the locked truck of the vehicle.
OK, so if you are as confused as I am, let’s make it just a bit more confusing. What is a home rule charter city or a statutory city? Again, quoting statutes is the best:
The term "statutory city" means any city which has not adopted a home rule charter pursuant to the Constitution and laws; the words "home rule charter city" mean any city which has adopted such a charter. In any law adopted after July 1, 1976, the word "city" when used without further description extending the application of the term to home rule charter cities means statutory cities only.
Wow, this is getting difficult. So in my 25 mile drive to get from my home to the place I intend to hunt at on a given day, does that mean I have to stop outside of the municipalities I am going to drive through and case my rifle and when I get out of city limits, I can then uncase by rifle? Where exactly are the city limits of a given city? How do I know if I am driving through a game refuge?
It’s all too complicated and confusing. I’m just going to case my rifle at home, put it in the back seat and drive to my hunting spot. Because this is the way I have done it for years, I know that as I case my firearm, I will check the chamber and make sure it isn’t loaded. I won’t have to have any concern about where my rifle must be cased and when it doesn’t have to be cased. As I drive, I can concentrate of the long-lasting dreams a hunter has, drink my lukewarm coffee and chew on some really good jerky.
And if I see that huge buck in the middle of the road, I am going to stop and…take a really good look at him, and then continue on my way with the hope of him, or another buck like him, walking by my stand. I know at that point, it’s not confusing.