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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published February 25 2013

Gun-friendly bills advancing in North Dakota House, including concealed weapons in schools, churches

BISMARCK – House lawmakers said Monday that North Dakotans should be able to carry concealed weapons at public events and, with the proper permission, in churches and schools.

The House passed three bills aimed at allowing concealed weapon permit holders to legally carry a weapon for protection purposes. Recent gun-related tragedies have increased a nationwide effort to protect vulnerable children and locations that have been devastated by mass shootings.

The most contested bill came with the discussion to allow a school board to meet in an executive session, or without public input or knowledge of what is said, to determine who can carry a concealed weapon into a school, if the person is legally permitted to carry it.

House Bill 1215 passed with a 60-33 vote.

“We don’t need any more secret meetings, particularly about determining who can carry in schools,” said Rep. Glen Froseth, R-Kenmare. “Anytime you give a public body an opportunity to give a secret meeting, they will take advantage of the meeting.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dwight Kiefert, R-Valley City, said larger schools have the option, or funding, to hire armed staff – commonly referred to as a resource officer. The bill would allow for smaller schools to have an armed teacher in a school that often takes law enforcement awhile to get to.

He said the bill also keeps everything organized, and prevents parents from arming themselves and standing on the playground.

“If a school board decides not to protect schools, it would be like putting a white flag up,” he said, arguing that if a perpetrator knows that a teacher or administrator is carrying a weapon, they won’t try to walk into the school.

Froseth said it won’t matter if the closed meeting keeps the general public from knowing which teacher is carrying a weapon.

Rep. Bill Amerman, D-Forman, agreed, arguing that idea “doesn’t hold water.”

“They are not only going to kill children and shoot up the school, but they are going there to die; that’s their mental state,” he said. “They are not going to worry if somebody’s packing a gun; they know they are not going to leave there alive.”

At public events

Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, dubbed a gun-free zone as a “fun-for-criminals-only zone.”

Becker’s bill, House Bill 1366, passed through the House on a 58-35 vote.

Under the bill, a concealed weapons permit holder could legally carry a weapon to a public gathering, such as a political event, where law enforcement may be the only ones with weapons.

“If law enforcement’s not there to stop the perpetrator, we have one reasonable option: Wait for that person to empty their clip and try to take them down when they are reloading,” he said. “This would allow a trained law-abiding citizen to stop the act.”

He noted individuals that obtain a concealed weapons permit go through extensive training and a background check and should be allowed to carry at a public gathering.

Guns in churches

The full body of legislators also agreed that, with permission from a church leader, an individual with a concealed weapons permit would be able to carry their firearm into a church or place of worship.

Some pastors pushed the legislation while in committee to have an option “so places of worship would be less vulnerable to someone that wants to kill people,” said Rep. Diane Larson, R-Bismarck.

The bill, House Bill 1283, passed the floor by a 82-11 vote without discussion and would require law enforcement to be notified of who is carrying the weapon.

Federal laws

The House also passed a bill addressing the Second Amendment right to bear arms and federal gun laws enacted since Jan. 1.

Under House Bill 1183, residents could seek civil penalties against a law enforcement agency that enforces a gun-restricting law passed by Congress.

Sponsored by Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, the bill says North Dakota law enforcement should not be enforcing gun restrictions coming from the federal government.

“It says we have enough gun laws on the books,” Streyle said. “We as states have the right to regulate this.”

Rep. William Kretschmar, R-Venturia, called the bill “premature.”

“It’s going to affect bills passed by Congress,” he said. “It’s not good policy to put restrictions on law enforcement people.”

The bill was sent to the Senate with a 50-42 vote.

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