(Patriot News) — A trial appears likely for Becker resident Matthew “Walker” Anderson after a Sherburne County District Court judge, the Honorable Kristi Janislawski, issued a ruling Feb. 2 rejecting three defense counsel motions to dismiss charges in the case.
Anderson faces two separate charges under subdivision 3 of Minnesota Statute 609.667 which is titled: Firearms; Removal or Alteration of Serial Number. Each charge carries with it a prison sentence of not more than five years and/or a fine of not more than $10,000.
Anderson’s attorney in the case, Blair W. Nelson, had filed three motions to dismiss the charges that originated in May of 2022. The criminal complaint alleges that Anderson was in possession of two privately manufactured firearms (PMFs) that he had built but that did not contain serial numbers. Nelson’s motions included one that cited a lack of probable cause as the firearms are identified by distinct numbers; a second claiming a violation of due process due to vagueness that therefore violated the 5th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution; and a third that asked for reconsideration of an earlier omnibus ruling that Nelson claimed shifted the burden to the defendant to prove the state statute in question violates the 2nd Amendment.
In the state’s memorandum in opposition to the defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges, the Sherburne County Attorney’s Office argued that the charges should stay intact because probable cause did exist and Minnesota statute language clearly defines the illegality of possessing a firearm without a serial number.
In addition to denying the defense’s three motions and the dismissal of the charges, Judge Stanislawski’s ruling also set a pre-trial hearing for Monday, Feb. 12 at 10 a.m. at the Sherburne County Government Center in Elk River.
A review of court documents related to the charges offers a glimpse into possible arguments in the case, including what constitutes a firearm’s serial number, state versus federal requirements for the serialization of a firearm and possible interpretations and implications of the 1968 Gun Control Act (GCA).
Prior to that year, gun manufacturers were not required to imprint serial numbers on all weapons.
Nelson raised that last question in his motion to dismiss, noting that “the existence of thousands of unserialized pre-1968 firearms throughout the state only further confuses the issue.”
Jeff O’Brien, a Twin Cities attorney who is not involved in Anderson’s case but has followed it closely and reviewed the charges, believes the impact of the verdict in a trial will have far reaching outcomes. He asserts that a conviction in this case could expose thousands of gun owners to felony charges if they own a pre-1968 firearm that is unserialized.
“It’s not hyperbole, not at all,” O’Brien says of the possibility. “If you take the position that it’s a felony to possess any firearm that doesn’t have a serial number, then all of those pre-1968 guns are going to be fair game.”
Ashlee Sherrill, public information officer at the St. Paul Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, responded to an earlier Patriot request for comment and noted that the agency doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations.
However, a section of the ATF website referenced in Sherrill’s email notes: “not all PMFs are illegal and not all firearms are required to have a serial number.”
Therein lies the potential difference in the Minnesota statute versus applicable federal law, an area that O’Brien thinks could be the crux of the case.
“I think that the key issue to me is the statutory construction, as he (Anderson) is being charged under a state statute, but at the same time that statute makes a reference to the definition of firearms in the federal law that creates an exemption for this type of weapon. There’s nothing in federal law that prohibits someone from assembling their own firearm.”
Another issue raised by Nelson in his motions to dismiss was the confusion surrounding the statute, as evidenced by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offering for auction unserialized guns at their regular equipment auctions.
An online review of DNR auction results from 2022 lists several sold firearms with serial numbers XXX, apparently indicating that they are unserialized.
According to Joe Albert, communications coordinator of the DNR’s Enforcement Division, the DNR did offer those pre-1968 firearms on auction, but they are an exception to the overall policy.
“The DNR does not sell firearms that are homemade or that do not have serial numbers on them,” Albert said in an emailed statement. “The only exception to this is firearms that were manufactured without a serial number prior to the Gun Control Act of 1968.”
Albert further stated that: “All sales of firearms by the DNR are in accordance with state and federal laws, and any restrictions also would be in accordance with state and federal laws.”
Attorney O’Brien suggests that some confusion surrounding the two differing statutes will be at center stage if the case goes to trial, but he doesn’t expect the case to last long.
“I don’t see the trial itself taking very long as the facts are what they are,” O’Brien says.
“I think it could be done in one to two days.”
Regardless of the outcome of a trial, O’Brien noted the likelihood of an appeal.
“I don’t know that whatever the judge or jury decides will be the last word in this case,” O’Brien says. “This case could end up in the Court of Appeals, the Minnesota Supreme Court or even as a Second Amendment case with the U.S. Supreme Court after that.”
This article was originally published at Patriot News and was reprinted here with permission.
Mark Kolbinger Jr.
Mark has over 20 years of experience in the newspaper industry, covering local and county government, business, sports and human interest stories for a variety of publications. A lifelong Minnesotan, he is a proud husband, father and grandpa who enjoys sharing stories of ordinary citizens who make a difference in their communities. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from St. Cloud State University and a Master's Degree from St. Mary's University.