Port: Fargo's gun ordinance tantrum is a contrived controversy

"Some of Fargo's leaders would have us believe they're fighting gun violence. But they're not. They're wasting our time fighting over something that wasn't a problem in the first place."

Commissioner John Strand at the City Commission meeting on Oct. 31, 2022.
Commissioner John Strand
Melissa Van Der Stad / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — To hear some of Fargo's city leaders tell it, our state legislators are a bunch of bullies who are trying to interfere with their community's ability to keep itself safe.

This teapot tempest is a rank bit of grandstanding perpetrated not toward some meaningful policy end but to titillate a certain sort of voter. Specifically, the sort of voter who expects their leaders to be anti-gun rather than pro-safety.

At issue is a Fargo city ordinance prohibiting firearms dealers from operating in residential neighborhoods, and you really need the backstory to understand the absurdity of the present situation.

For years, this ordinance went overlooked , and certain firearms dealers who operate from their homes, accepting fees to facilitate online firearms transactions, went about their business, causing zero problems. Federal law states that if you purchase a firearm online or through the mail, it has to be shipped to someone holding a federal license. It can't just be delivered directly to you. These license holders have been filling that role.

Or, they were, until the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms noticed the ordinance and told the license holders they couldn't be renewed until it was changed.


The license holders went to the city to get that change, which seemed reasonable. After all, nobody had been enforcing the ordinance. Local law enforcement testified to city leaders that these dealers were involved in zero incidents. These transactions had been taking place with no problems. Why keep in place a seemingly unnecessary policy?

But guns are a part of the culture war. Fargo's left-of-center leadership, rather than taking an objective and dispassionate view of the issue in front of them, instead retreated to the left's default position on guns. They rejected the request for an ordinance change.

"Kevin O'Leary had a point when he compared North Dakota's economic policies to Minnesota's, but in making it he made our state seem small and petty."
"A Sanford employee on a committee chaired by a Sanford-funded politician moved to reconsider a bill so that another Sanford-funded politician could make an amendment a Sanford lobbyist asked for."
"Even if Trump is convicted in the criminal justice system, it's not going to matter in the political system until Trump's supporters care about the honesty and integrity of their candidate."
"The way things are trending, the tax policy that emerges from this Legislature may tilt more toward failed property tax buydowns than income tax relief."
"But I suspect that won't stop many self-styled 'conservatives' in this era of Republican politics, dominated by reactionary supporters of Donald Trump, from accusing him of liberalism."

So, the problem went to the Legislature, which obliged, in the 2021 session, with House Bill 1248 preempting Fargo's ordinance. Or, at least, that's what they thought they did. Fargo's leaders, leaning into their culture war motivations, and spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars along the way , took the law to court and won, with the courts finding that Fargo's ordinance hadn't violated the new law , which prohibited local gun control laws from being more severe than the state's, because the state doesn't have a gun control law like Fargo's ordinance.

The idea that a law might be more restrictive than no law was apparently lost on the courts.

So it goes.

Now the issue is back before the Legislature again, in the form of House Bill 1340 , introduced by Rep. Ben Koppelman, a Republican from West Fargo. "The bill proposes the state prohibit any local municipalities from enacting any zoning ordinances relating to the purchase, sale, ownership, possession, transfer of ownership, registration or licensure of firearms and ammunition," our Melissa Van Der Stad reports .

This prompted an outpouring of invective from some of Fargo's leaders. “I want to see these legislators defend having assault rifles across from schools. I want to see them stand up and tell us why this is what they need in Fargo," thundered left-wing Commissioner John Strand at a recent meeting .

To be clear, I like Strand, and not just because he once dared to publish my right-of-center writings in the High Plains Reader, his left-of-center publication, despite the groaning from his left-of-center audience. Typically, he's a reasonable voice worth listening to, even when we disagree.


But on this issue? He's allowed his emotions to get the better of him.

Remember, this controversy began with an ordinance most people in Fargo had forgotten about. One that certainly wasn't being enforced. Had the ATF not dug it out of the city's code and flagged it, small-time firearms license holders would still be operating from their homes in Fargo, taking their fees from area residents engaged in legal firearms purchases, complete with all requisite background checks.

Strand, and those who see this issue as he does, would have us believe that the Legislature is trying to revert Fargo back to the days of the wild west, with high noon shootouts and everything.

In truth, the Legislature is trying to bring back a status quo in Fargo that, again, wasn't causing anybody any problems.

Strand and others would have us believe that they're fighting against gun violence. But they're not. Instead, they're wasting our time fighting over something that wasn't a problem in the first place.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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