On meaning of ‘carry’, Minnesota man will stand trial on gun/alcohol charges

In Minnesota, it is illegal to carry a gun while under the influence of alcohol.

The literal translation of that word — carry — led to charges being dropped against a man who was stopped by a Maple Grove police officer in April 2016 because he wasn’t carrying the gun; it was in his car’s console.

That definition — and the dropping of charges against Christopher Prigge — was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals last July. But Prigge’s luck ran out today when the Minnesota Supreme Court said a gun in the car’s console fits the definition of “carrying.”

“‘Carry’ is defined as ‘[t]o hold or support while moving; bear,’or ‘[t]o hold or be capable of holding,’” Court of Appeals Judge Michelle Larkin wrote in her decision last year.

But in a decision that involved lessons on transitive verbs and objects, Justice David Lillehaug noted that the dictionary lists 27 definitions of “carry”, and one of them means Prigge will have to stand trial on the charge that he was under the influence while carrying a gun.

Plausible definitions of “carry” are: (1) “[t]o hold or support while moving; bear,” (2) “[t]o move or take from one place to another; transport: a train carrying freight,” and (3) “[t]o keep or have on one’s person,” Lillehaug said.

Taken together, the only reasonable interpretation of the phrase “carry a pistol on or about the person’s clothes or person” is that a person carries a pistol on or about one’s person by either (1) physically moving the pistol, or (2) having the pistol in one’s personal vicinity while moving. As a practical matter, for a pistol to be in one’s personal vicinity, it must be within arm’s reach.

Prigge asks us to adopt the court of appeals’ interpretation of “carry” and require a physical nexus between the person (or the person’s clothes) and the pistol. It is true that one definition of “carry” is “[t]o keep or have on one’s person.” The American Heritage Dictionary 285 (5th ed. 2011). But we must read “carry” in the context of the statute. See Haywood, 886 N.W.2d at 488. The physical-nexus interpretation might be reasonable if the statute only prohibited carrying a pistol “on” one’s person or clothing. But the statute prohibits carrying a pistol “about” one’s person or clothing as well. The physical-nexus interpretation would read the “or about” language out of the statute, and is therefore

Today’s ruling doesn’t settle the question, though, of whether the gun was “within arm’s reach.”

That’s for the trial court to decide.