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Brittany Lawonn, Published January 31 2009

North Dakota proposal includes guns in courtroom

A bill before the North Dakota Legislature would allow prosecutors and other attorneys to carry concealed weapons in public places – including courtrooms.

Law enforcement authorities say that could bring up security issues.

“You would have a hard time distinguishing who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy once the shooting started,” said Cass County Sheriff’s Captain Rick Majerus.

The bill would require individuals to go through training and have a local law enforcement agency issue a certificate of compliance, said Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, the bill’s author. Cases would be handled “on a very individual basis,” he added.

“If they don’t trust the person or they don’t want them to have it, then they should just say, ‘No,’ ” Porter said.

Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick said he doubts he’ll start carrying a weapon if the bill passes. Burdick said while he has not dealt with the issue locally, he is aware of prosecutors in other states who are threatened or the subject of violence.

“I have never heard of anybody saying that they felt that they’ve needed it,” Burdick said, referring to the bill.

Rep. Duane DeKrey, R-Pettibone, a co-sponsor of the bill, believes attorneys have a right to protect themselves.

“I would imagine that anybody that’s prosecuted for any length of a time has had to deal with threats,” he said.

The bill would also allow defense attorneys, who are often seated next to defendants, to carry concealed weapons.

DeKrey said he doubts that will lead to a problem, noting there is currently courtroom security in place.

“I don’t imagine that the defense attorney is going to announce to his client, ‘By the way, I’m carrying heat,’ ” DeKrey said.

The House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee heard House Bill 1351 on Friday but took no action.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541