District Court Has Full Discretion with Firearm Rights Petitions in Minnesota


Averbeck v. State
Court of Appeals of Minnesota
December 7, 2010

Holding: The district court has full discretion in denying or granting a petition to restore a person’s firearm rights. The defendant in this case failed to show the court good cause in restoring such rights and therefore court is within its discretion for denying such petition.

Why This Case is Important: Minnesota Statute § 609.165 gives the district court discretion to grant or deny a person’s request to restore their firearm rights if the person can show good cause.

The term “good cause” is not specifically defined in the statutes. However, courts have defined the term to mean a reason to allow the court to act or not act, which is justified in the context of surrounding circumstances. Furthermore, courts have stated that the most significant surrounding circumstance to restoring a person’s firearm rights is the interest in public safety. Thus, in order to apply to restore one’s firearm rights under Minn. Stat. § 609.165, the person applying needs to show that he or she will not harm the public or a potential to harm the public if the court were to grant such request.

However, a showing of good cause will not automatically grant the person his firearm rights. The court may still decide against the request if it doesn’t find a sufficient level of comfort in the person.

Facts of This Case: In 1991, defendant was arrested and charged with felony third degree assault after he had hit an individual in the face and broke that person’s nose. Defendant was found guilty and was placed on five years of probation. In 1994, defendant was discharged from his probation and filed to have the court restore his right to possess firearms. The district court denied his request; defendant appealed, arguing that the district court had abused its discretion. The Court of Appeals of Minnesota agreed with the district court’s decision, deciding that the court acted within its discretion.

The Court of Appeals stated that a court may restore a person’s right to possess a firearm if the person shows good cause to do so. It is the responsibility of the person to show good cause to the court, and if good cause is shown, the district court would still have discretion to grant or deny the request. A mere showing of good cause does not automatically restore the person’s firearm rights nor does it require the district court to grant such a request.

Even though the term “good cause” is not defined in the Minnesota statues. The Court held that it is defined in context by the court to mean a reason to take action or not to take action, which is justified when viewed in the surrounding circumstances. This means that the defendant must give the district court good reason to restore his firearm rights. This includes showing that the defendant will not be harmful to the public if such rights were to be restored.

The district court had rejected all of defendant’s arguments for good cause, concluding that defendant had failed to convince the court he had been reformed and would not be harmful to the public. Defendant’s first argument was that a lifetime ban for a single incident was unjust. The district court answered that the one incident was a felony offense and the defendant had shown no remorse for the victim after the incident as well as no regret even 19 years after the incident. The district court also denied defendant’s second argument, stating that giving defendant a gun so that he can handle situations during his job as a process server would be dangerous as these situation could get out of hand and result in dangerous circumstances to the public. Finally, the district court did not accept defendant’s argument that he needed a gun for his job as a private investigator because defendant had not yet applied for such a position.

The Court of Appeals of Minnesota agreed that the denial of defendant’s request based on these reasons was not an abuse of discretion, as the defendant had not sufficiently shown good cause to allow such right to be restored. The Court of Appeals further stated that even if the district court had found good cause, it may still deny the defendant’s request if it did not find a level of comfort with granting such request, which the district court did not have in this case.

Key Language: Minn. Stat. § 609.165 requires that a person applying to have their firearm rights restored must show to the court that there is good cause to do so. Good cause is defined as giving the court a reason to grant the request, one in which shows that the person will not be harmful to the public if their firearm rights were to be restored. A sufficient showing of good cause will not automatically restore firearm rights, as the court will still have discretion to grant or deny the request, based on how comfortable the court is with the situation.

Expert Advise: “In Minnesota, a person wishing to get their firearm rights restored must first show the court good cause to do so. After a sufficient showing of good cause, the court will then decide on granting such request, based on how comfortable it is that the person will not be harmful to the public.” -Attorney Mathew Higbee.

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