Gun laws have become complex and confusing – even for some lawyers and judges.  That calls into question a core principle of due process and criminal law: fair notice of what a person should avoid doing to be on the safe side of the law.  When there are grey areas in the law, the rule of lenity applies.  Legal grey areas can give rise to “reasonable doubt.”

To understand to the complexity of gun laws, we must simplify.  Keep in mind that while we explain simply, there is often a deeper level of analysis that may reveal a different answer.

Gun laws in Minnesota include both state and federal laws, interpreted by both Minnesota and federal courts.  Gun laws categorize crimes based upon different factors, including the object (for example, type of firearm), the person (for example, “ineligible persons”), location or proximity, and so on.

Since most “ineligible person in possession of a firearm” crimes charged in Minnesota are under state law, that will be our focus on this page.  Similarly, we’ll discuss what makes a person ineligible to possess a firearm in Minnesota.  (Go here for our page discussing: the law of possession of a firearm in Minnesota.)

Gun owner, Martin Luther King, Montgomery arrest 1958
Gun owner, Martin Luther King, Montgomery arrest 1958

What makes a person “ineligible?”

Certain laws strip away the rights of some people based upon either past conduct or the person’s status.  Here are the most common categories of ineligibility:

  • Age 18, with qualifications and exceptions
  • Certain criminal convictions where civil rights have not been restored
  • Certain pending criminal charges, fugitives, restraining orders
  • Court civil commitments, and some informal admissions for mental health or chemical dependency
  • Illegal alien

Criminal law and ineligibility

The most common grounds of ineligibility are related to a person’s past criminal convictions or pending criminal charges or civil restraining orders.  The rights diminished by certain restraining orders are generally temporary, ending when the period of the Order ends.  Ineligibility triggered by a criminal charge or conviction will be our focus here.

There are two main bases for ineligibility based upon a criminal charge or conviction:

  1. Felony “crimes of violence;” and
  2. Domestic assault and similar crimes.


Pending felony charge:  In Minnesota, a pending felony charge (criminal Complaint filed and not yet resolved) prohibits a person from possessing “any pistol or semiautomatic military-style assault weapon.”  624.713 CERTAIN PERSONS NOT TO POSSESS FIREARMS:

Subd. 1a.  “Possession of any firearm is prohibited where “a person, including … juvenile court, who has been charged with committing a crime of violence and has been placed in a pretrial diversion program by the court before disposition, until the person has completed the diversion program and the charge of committing the crime of violence has been dismissed.” 624.713 CERTAIN PERSONS NOT TO POSSESS FIREARMS, Subdivision 1 (7).

Felony convictionsGeneral Rule:  Discharge of conviction generally restores the person’s civil rights and to full citizenship, the same as if the conviction had not taken place.  Minn. Stat. § 609.165, Restoration of civil rights; possession of firearms, Subd. 1.

Exception:  Minn. Stat. § 609.165, Subd. 1a:

Certain convicted felons ineligible to possess firearms or ammunition. The order of discharge must provide that a person who has been convicted of a crime of violence, as defined in section 624.712, subdivision 5, is not entitled to ship, transport, possess, or receive a firearm or ammunition for the remainder of the person’s lifetime. Any person who has received such a discharge and who thereafter has received a relief of disability under United States Code, title 18, section 925, or whose ability to possess firearms and ammunition has been restored under subdivision 1d, shall not be subject to the restrictions of this subdivision.”

Exception to the exception:  Minn. Stat. § 609.165, Subd 1d:

“Judicial restoration of ability to possess firearms and ammunition by felon. A person prohibited by state law from shipping, transporting, possessing, or receiving a firearm or ammunition because of a conviction or a delinquency adjudication for committing a crime of violence may petition a court to restore the person’s ability to possess, receive, ship, or transport firearms and otherwise deal with firearms and ammunition.

The court may grant the relief sought if the person shows good cause to do so and the person has been released from physical confinement.”

Rehnquist Court, opinion by Justice Kennedy, Caron v. U.S.
Rehnquist Court, opinion by Justice Kennedy, Caron v. U.S.

Since federal law either recognizes or incorporates state law on gun rights, Minnesota law controls in this area. Caron v. United States, 524 U.S. 308 (1998); 18 U.S. Code § 921, (a) (20); 27 CFR 478.11 (Meaning of terms. “Crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year”).

In Minnesota, a person may temporarily lose some, or all, of their gun rights while certain felony charges are pending, including pretrial diversion.  And if convicted of a felony gun rights are automatically restored upon final discharge from sentence, including discharge from probation or supervised release – unless the crime of conviction was on the felony crime of violence list (or certain domestic crimes).  The list of felony “crimes of violence” is long, however; and includes numerous factually non-violent crimes, such as felony possession of marijuana.

A person with a Minnesota felony “crime of violence” conviction loses their civil rights to firearms for life, unless that person has obtained a court Order restoring their civil rights to firearms, a pardon, or otherwise had their rights restored.

Domestic crimes

Some domestic assault and similar Minnesota convictions trigger a loss of civil rights to firearms – both felony and misdemeanor.  Since most if not all Minnesota domestic felony crimes are listed in Minnesota’s list of felony “crimes of violence,” and cause a loss of gun rights on that basis, we can now focus on Minnesota non-felony domestic crimes.

When it comes to loss of civil rights to firearms based upon a Minnesota domestic Gross Misdemeanor or Misdemeanor domestic conviction, we need to look at both Minnesota and federal laws.

When applicable, the Minnesota ban is generally three years from the date of conviction.  On the other hand, when applicable the federal ban is a lifetime ban, unless civil rights have been restored one way or another.

Here you can read our in-depth discussion of: Gun rights after a Minnesota misdemeanor domestic crime conviction.

Question about a Minnesota Ineligible Person in Possession of a Firearm case?  Call Minnesota Defense Attorney Thomas C Gallagher at 612 333-1500