The Minnesota Reciprocity Problem – Why Language Matters

Minnesotans' new law makes great strides in reciprocity with neighboring states, but comes at a high price for anyone who lives out of state. It's a also a great example of how important specific words can be.

Minnesotans’ new law makes great strides in reciprocity with neighboring states, but comes at a high price for anyone living out-of-state.

By now you may have heard Minnesota no longer recognizes Utah’s concealed carry weapon permits, as well as three other states (Missouri, Texas, and Wyoming). What you may not have heard is this change in Minnesota law means Minnesotan’s now have reciprocity with nine new states, most notably North and South Dakota, their neighbors to the west. Prior to this Minnesota refused to recognize out-of-state concealed carry permits from any of their bordering states. This is a significant improvement for Minnesota residents, particularly those that live and work along the western border with North and South Dakota.

BUT, the loss of reciprocity with the state of Utah has a direct impact on Iowans because tens of thousands of us have Utah permits to carry, which up until very recently meant we could legally carry in Minnesota. Now these Iowans will have to find other means to carry in order to remain lawful.

Similar

Concealed carry reciprocity letter from the Minnesota DPS commissioner.

This letter from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety explains why they dropped their reciprocity agreements with four states including Utah.

It took pro-Second Amendment advocates in Minnesota years of hard work to secure reciprocity with their neighbors to their west. But unfortunately they ended their agreement with Utah and three other states all because of the interpretation of one word: similar.

Lawmakers in Minnesota approved the update to their state’s carry law, but ultimately it’s up to Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) to determine what other state’s carry laws apply. The mandate says in order to recognize an out-of-state carry permit, the state of origin must have a permitting system that is “similar.” So when the Minnesota DPS reviewed the updated carry law they determined that Utah’s permits are not similar because there’s no proficiency test in Utah. Which coincidentally is part of the reason they refuse to recognize Iowa’s Permit to Carry.

There’s two important points to take away from this story. First, if we had national reciprocity this would never have been an issue. But more importantly…

Words Matter.

Had the Minnesota law been written another way, or updated so that the DPS had to maintain its current reciprocity agreements this story would be much different. But as it stands the interpretation of the words “substantially similar” falls to the DPS and at the end of the day this gives them a tremendous amount of power.

Specific words truly do matter especially when it comes to changing laws. Every single word in a bill must be perfect. When the wrong word, or a weak or ambiguous word makes its way into a bill that gets signed into law the results can be utterly disastrous.

May Issue vs. Shall Issue

A perfect example of this took place right here in Iowa’s firearms community. Anybody remember the days of “May Issue” permits to carry? Before 2010 each county sheriff in Iowa got to choose who got a permit to carry concealed weapons and it was an absolute disaster. Residents of some counties had no problems getting permits, while others who were just as qualified had virtually no chance of ever getting a permit. All because of one single word in Iowa’s legal code–”may.” A county sheriff may issue a permit to carry to qualified individuals.

It took seven years, thousands Iowans, and tens of thousands of emails, phone calls and volunteer hours to change that one word–may–to shall. It may not seem like much, but legally speaking the word may is vastly different from Shall. Changing that one single word single-handedly lead to a ten-fold increase in the number of Iowan’s with permits to carry.

There’s plenty more examples to go around. We all know how the anti-gun zealots love to argue our Second Amendment rights need be reigned in ‘because they only apply to a “well regulated militia”‘ aka the National Guard or various military units. Not to private citizens. Fortunately they’re FLAT OUT WRONG. In the 2008 Heller case the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess and carry firearms. In plain English the court ruling effectively said the word militia means all lawful citizens, not just organized units of the US military. Once again specific words and their interpretation can make or break a law, amendment, bill, etc..

The devil’s in the details

That idiom rings especially true with gun laws. You may have a bill that looks great on the surface, but one misplaced word, one tiny slip up, or a single malicious entry by an anti-gun legislator can destroy months or years of hard work. The devil is truly hidden in the details, and anti-gunners without a leg to stand on will do often try to sour good legislation with bad language. This is something the Iowa Firearms Coalition is well aware of and constantly on the lookout for. Unfortunately for Iowans’s who work or travel in Minnesota, this latest change to their carry law is another example of how extremely important a pro-Second Amendment bill’s language is.

The moral of the story: the next time you see a so-called “pro-gun bill” written or amended by anti-gun legislators think long and hard about their motivation and every single word they wrote.


Iowa Firearms Coalition is an entirely volunteer, grassroots, Second Amendment advocacy group. Responsible for bringing uniformity to Iowa’s Concealed Weapons Permitting process, IFC’s members work to protect and enhance Second Amendment rights in Iowa. An affiliate of the National Rifle Association, the IFC actively seeks to foster and promote the shooting sports. Sign up for our email list for the latest on Second Amendment issues in Iowa. You can support our work by becoming a member, or making a donation. 

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  1. TXCOMT says:

    Amen! This post is American Rifleman worthy…words do indeed matter, especially when it comes to bills, which, eventually, turn into laws. Unfortunately, most bills are written by staffers who, while not necessarily lawyers, certainly seem to write like them, so it may take awhile for the average American to get the gist. Still, the point remains: read every word, then take action, if necessary! Our 2A freedoms depend on it!

    TXCOMT

  2. randy crawford says:

    Illinois and other states are playing the same game. One practical alternative would be for Iowa to have a two-tier CCW system. Namely, “B” class Iowa CCW permits would be just like we have now. “A” class permits, [for those who want to put in the time and money so they have no problems with Minnesota, Illinois, etc.] would require so many hours of live-fire shooting, or whatever whim is currently prevailing in Minnesota, Illinois, and other states. If Iowa can become the Baskin-Robbins 31 flavors (or at least 2 flavors) permit state, then we can out-chameleon and out-maneuver our imaginative adversaries. Just sitting passively on our hands and wishing for a better world is unlikely to produce effective results when dealing with those who are constantly trying to move the goal posts. Iowa already has multiple classes of CCW permits to deal with law enforcement needs, so it’s about time ordinary citizens have multi-tiered options as well, including enhanced versions that stay legal in Nebraska also.

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