Fargo ban on residential gun sales shot down by court

The duel between Fargo and the state over whether North Dakota cities can restrict the sale of firearms and ammunition under their home rule authority appears to be over with only the state still standing. Weeks after North Dakota lawmakers passed legislation last year prohibiting cities from enacting local firearm ordinances, Fargo City Commissioners challenged the measure in state court.

But Inforum News notes the verdict just announced wasn’t the outcome the city aimed for.

In her ruling, filed on Thursday, Feb. 22, [East Central District Judge Cherie] Clark cited a line of North Dakota Supreme Court decisions holding that home rule charters have limits and are subject to state law.

“None of the cases above squarely address the issue presented in this case of whether the legislature has constitutional authority to carve out limitations within the home rule powers it had once granted,” she wrote.

“However, it is undeniable from this long line of cases that the legislature has considerable power to shape home rule authority.”

Fargo officials expressed their disappointment in the ruling, leaving open the possibility of an appeal. But North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said the outcome was essentially a foregone conclusion, given that cities derive home rule authority under conditions set by the legislature.

Attorney General Drew Wrigley praised Clark’s decision as “thorough” and within “historical context and case law.”

Because local home rule authority is limited, “The North Dakota Legislature of course gets to speak on this issue,” he said. “In this regard, they pre-empted the home rule charter.”

Legislators decided “there needed to be uniformity” on an issue of statewide significance, Wrigley said.

Despite her clear cut ruling, Clark expressed reservations over the impact of her decision in potentially opening the door to further attempts by lawmakers to reign in home rule cities down the road.

“The Court is concerned that the legislature’s ability to strip home rule authority in this instance could threaten home rule authority in the future,” she wrote, “If the legislature continues to pare home rule powers, home rule cities lack the discretion to address important issues impacting their respective and unique communities.

“Home rule authority would, in essence, be rendered obsolete.”