Last year, Matthew Anderson and his friend were target shooting on private property when a neighbor filed a complaint with the police after saying they heard glass shatter in their home. Although there was no evidence that a bullet actually struck the neighbor’s house, police launched an inspection of the shooting range as well as the firearms belonging to Anderson and his friend.
Matthew’s mother, Sara Forgues, says he was cooperative and invited the deputy to inspect the range. The deputy determined that the young men were shooting responsibly and that the range was sound.
When the responding officer inquired about their firearms, Anderson showed the deputy his privately made firearms. Because they were not manufactured commercially, they did not have any serial numbers. When the deputy said they were illegal, Anderson informed him of federal laws stating that privately manufactured firearms do not need serial numbers if they are for personal use. To his surprise, the firearms were confiscated, and he was detained before being informed he was being hit with two felony charges for possessing firearms without a serial number.
According to Forgues, the statute cited by the deputies was not applicable because Anderson had not actually removed a serial number. It also does not fit the definition of a “firearm that is not identified by a serial number” because privately made firearms do not require serial numbers under the federal law referenced in the statute, his attorney said.
In court documents, the attorney noted: “Under the plain meaning of the statute, the rifles made and possessed by Anderson were not ‘firearms’ as contemplated in [the federal law] and thus no serial number was required. Federal law does not require serial numbers to be placed on personally manufactured firearms created for private use.”
Forgues said that her son talked to an ATF agent prior to constructing his firearms to ensure he was in compliance with the law. She said the agent was unaware of state laws restricting such firearms and told him that he was not in violation of any federal law. In fact, the Minnesota DNR regularly auctions off firearms without serial numbers.
Anderson is a lawful gun owner who is not subject to any restrictions. He has been a hunter since he was young and has undergone gun safety training. In addition, he legally purchased sport rifles after turning 18 and undergoing background checks.
He has already pleaded not guilty to both counts, and his trial is set for September.
In addition to passionately defending her son’s rights and expressing valid concerns about the effect that felony convictions would have on him throughout his life, Forgues is also warning other Minnesotans that the law is being interpreted in this manner and that they, too, could find themselves on the wrong end of the law unintentionally.
For example, she points out that hunting is a popular pastime in Minnesota and many people are likely to have firearms in their homes that were passed down generations and may not have a serial number because they were made prior to 1968.
She said that the outcome of the case could have a big effect on Minnesotans. On a GiveSendGo page raising funds for his defense, she warned: "If convicted, it would mean thousands of law-abiding gun owners all across our state would become potential felons. It’s just that real.”
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