North Dakota Supreme Court invalidates restraining order against gun owner

The North Dakota Supreme Court invalidated a restraining order last week filed against a gun owner in a dispute with her husband’s ex-wife.

The five-member panel unanimously agreed in a ruling issued May 16, a state district court erred when it extended the disorderly conduct restraining order against Karen Keller for exercising her constitutionally-protected right to carry a gun on her property.

The lower court upheld the restraining order last year after her husband’s ex-wife, Nichole Keller, said she felt threatened by the handgun Karen Keller held behind her back during a visit with her children in August 2016.

According to court documents, Nichole Keller and a friend, Rachel Parker, arrived at the rural McHenry County property Karen shared with her husband and his three children from his previous marriage to Nichole on Aug. 14, 2016. The two women waited in Parker’s vehicle at the edge of Karen’s property line until Karen came out of the front door, hands tucked behind her back. Parker asked Karen to send out Nichole’s youngest daughter and said she saw the gun in Karen’s hand as she turned around to get the child.

Both women questioned Karen about why she had the gun, to which she replied she didn’t immediately recognize Parker or her vehicle.

Nichole Keller left after speaking with her daughter. She immediately called police, who interviewed all three women. Nichole later filed for a temporary restraining order against Karen, insisting she feared for her life and the lives of her children. A district court extended the order for one year.

Both Nichole Keller and Rachel Parker testified Karen never pointed the gun in their direction “or make any threatening or violent statements,” according to court documents. The women remained about 200 feet apart during the entire exchange, Nichole Keller said.

Karen appealed the decision, arguing her actions didn’t meet the definition of “disorderly conduct” under state law.

Justice Daniel J. Crothers, who authored the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision last week, agreed her behavior didn’t qualify as “intrusive or unwanted acts, words, or gestures that are intended to adversely affect the safety, security, or privacy of another person.”

“The district court’s sole basis for finding reasonable grounds supporting the disorderly conduct restraining order was the presence of the gun,” he said. “Because possessing a firearm on private property is a constitutionally protected activity, reasonable grounds supporting the disorderly conduct restraining order did not exist.”