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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published March 19 2013

ND state officials coming out against gun bills

BISMARCK – State officials took stands against two gun-related bills Tuesday.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem urged lawmakers to defeat legislation that he says would pit local and federal law enforcement against one another, while Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler testified against allowing concealed weapons in public schools.

Stenehjem told the Senate Judiciary Committee that House Bill 1183, which would prohibit state law enforcement from enforcing any new federal firearm law passed after Jan. 1, 2013, is overreacting to the threat of federal firearm bans, since no laws have been passed yet.

“Some bills just need to die, and this is one of them,” he said, as a handful of state agents were sitting in the room.

He said law enforcement personnel will feel compelled to take time away from policing “to testify against ill-advised legislation.”

Under the bill, the federal government and agencies can still enforce any new laws, but the bill says state law enforcement can’t provide aid them in doing so.

The bill was introduced to combat any new federal firearm regulations after the Obama administration announced its proposals to ban assault weapons and large ammunition magazines as well as provide more thorough background checks when a gun is purchased, among other things.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, said any new regulations would infringe on an individual’s Second Amendment rights.

“Our rights aren’t for sale for fear of losing federal money or support,” he said. “The Second Amendment is the Second Amendment for a reason, it’s up top because it’s very important.”

The bill also could put Stenehjem in a bind. The proposal would allow someone arrested for violating a new federal firearms law to seek civil penalties against the state agency or individual that enforced the law. Because Stenehjem has to defend the state in legal proceedings, he could also be sued for assisting the law enforcement agency in a court proceeding.

Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, asked Stenehjem to promise the committee he will defend the state when it comes to Second Amendment issues, making sure he was on record after she has received many emails from concerned constituents regarding the state’s role on national firearm issues.

He said yes, adding that his office has kept an eye on presidential executive orders.

“We were ready to take action if need be, based on the argument there was excessive involvement and violation of the Constitution,” he said.

No action was taken by the committee. The House passed the measure with a 50-42 vote.

Allowing some school personnel to carry guns, as proposed in House Bill 1215, is intended to improve school safety. But Mallory Fischer, director of the Safe and Healthy Schools division under the Department of Public Instruction, said Tuesday the idea is making some in schools more nervous. “Friendly fire and liability issues have created equal, if not more fear by educators,” Fischer said Tuesday.

She said the state should be focusing on the mental health issues and school safety plans as a proactive approach if a gunman were to come to a school, rather than focusing on concealed weapons.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dwight Kiefert, R-Valley City, has continued to push the measure as an opportunity for school boards to develop and employ their own defense system.

He contends that by allowing a school board to go into executive session to decide who carries a concealed weapon, it would deter a perpetrator from entering a school.

Kiefert said his proposal is an attempt to protect rural schools that may have to wait a long time for law enforcement to respond to a gunman.

Fischer and Baesler are pushing for Senate Bill 2267, which would provide $10 million that would be given out through $25,000 grants for eligible schools to beef up security equipment.