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Port: Fargo's lawsuit against the state over firearms ordinance estimated to cost tens of thousands

Fargo's blatantly ideological response to firearms license holders operating in residential areas is going to cost taxpayers a lot of money.

Fargo City Commission members from left are Commissioner Tony Gehrig, Mayor Tim Mahoney and Commissioner Tony Grindberg. Forum file photo

MINOT, N.D. — This week the Fargo City Commission voted to pursue a legal challenge to state firearms law.

Here's some backstory, if you haven't been following along.

For years people with federal firearms licenses were operating businesses from their homes in some of Fargo's residential neighborhoods without incident. There weren't many of them, less than 10 at any given time, and they weren't running gun counters in their living rooms. They essentially acted as facilitators for private firearms transactions.

As one example, if you purchase a gun online, you can't have it shipped directly to you. The law requires that it be shipped to someone with a federal license. These license holders in Fargo provided that service, for a fee. They would take receipt of your gun, and you picked it up for them.

Another service they provide is background checks. These aren't necessary for every gun transaction, but many people like to go through that process if they don't know the person they're selling a gun to. For liability reasons, if nothing else.


Edward Krystosek, a Fargo resident who holds one of these licenses, spoke about his business with me on a recent episode of Plain Talk Live:

Not so long ago the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms , which issues these licenses, informed the Fargo license holders that, due to a previously overlooked zoning ordinance prohibiting firearms stores in residential neighborhoods, they could no longer renew the licenses.

The license holders went to the city to get the ordinance changed, and the city demurred.

They went to the state Legislature and were obliged with House Bill 1248 , a law pre-empting Fargo's ordinance. It was introduced by Rep. Ben Koppelman , R-West Fargo. It passed on a 81-11 vote in the House, and a 26-20 vote in the Senate.

It was signed into law by Gov. Doug Burgum on April 21.


Fargo's city leaders, who are, foolishly, wont to think of their community, not as a political subdivision of the State of North Dakota, but a sort of independent city-state, have now decided to sue the State of North Dakota over the law.

It's a quixotic legal endeavor. The city is wielding a "local control" argument but, being a subdivision of the state, the City of Fargo only has as much local control as the state government allows them.

How much will this cost taxpayers?

According to Fargo city spokesman Gregg Schildberger, the preliminary research into the question of suing the state was covered under the existing contract between the city and its lawyers, but the suit itself is expected to cost big.

"Costs, as with any litigation, depend upon the time and effort invested by the litigation counsel, whether the decision is appealed beyond the District Court level, other variables, etc.," he told me. "However, the city attorney estimates the costs to The City of Fargo will be in the range of $20,000 to $40,000 for this effort."

That's a significant amount of money to spend. All the more when you consider that this is a suit Fargo isn't likely to win.

There is also the potential that the city itself could be sued by the license holders who could argue, credibly, that the city is infringing upon their Second Amendment rights. That suit would have a cost, too.


And I'm still baffled as to what problem the city's leaders are trying to solve.

Prior to the ATF flagging this ordinance as an issue for FFL renewals, these license holders operated without issue. There were no complaints about traffic or safety. Other North Dakota cities allow license holders to operate in residential neighborhoods without incident. Also, the existence of these license holders makes complying with the legal requirements for firearms transactions easier.

Isn't that what we want?

The objections to the license holders operating out of their homes only accrued after the ATF raised their issues, and seem motivated less by real-world concerns than knee-jerk, anti-gun ideology.

And now, that ideological response is going to cost the taxpayers of Fargo.

Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at . To comment on this article, visit

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a columnist and podcast host for the Forum News Service. Reach him at
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