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Published July 04 2013

Fargo gun ordinance ends due to state law

FARGO – A change in state law that takes effect Aug. 1 is forcing Fargo to delete a city ordinance that made it illegal to have a dangerous weapon or firearm in public unless it was fully encased or enclosed in the trunk of a vehicle.

Assistant City Attorney Jason Loos said that while he didn’t have statistics, he estimated the ordinance was used to charge a crime less than half a dozen times per year.

“It wasn’t very often,” he said.

Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel also said the city ordinance “wasn’t one we utilized a lot.”

With the change in state law, it won’t be available for use at all.

State lawmakers approved House Bill 1327 in April. Before that, state law already prohibited home-rule cities and counties like Fargo and Cass County from passing local ordinances that were more restrictive than state law when it came to the purchase, sale, ownership, transfer of possession, registration or licensing of firearms and ammunition.

The amended law added “possession” to that list and declared all such existing city and county ordinances void – including a Fargo ordinance that banned carrying or possessing a dangerous weapon or firearm on city streets, alleys or in any public place unless the weapon was fully encased or in the trunk.

The City Commission received and filed the amended ordinance June 24, and it will receive a first reading at the commission meeting Monday.

Vettel said officers already are trained to assume the presence of a weapon, and if someone is going to carry a gun for illicit purposes, “then I don’t think a city ordinance is going to stop them from doing that.”

“This shouldn’t change how they respond on day-to-day calls for public service,” he said.

Under state law, an individual carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle still must have a valid North Dakota concealed weapons license.

Jerry Hjelmstad, staff attorney and deputy director of the North Dakota League of Cities, said the organization didn’t receive a lot of feedback on the issue from its members during the legislative session, and he didn’t know if any cities other than Fargo are updating ordinances to comply with the revised state law.

West Fargo’s only change is that the city police no longer will play a role in conducting criminal background checks on applicants for concealed weapons permits, a process the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation now will oversee, Assistant Chief Mike Reitan said.

Fargo also is stripping its ordinances of references to pepper spray and stun guns as dangerous weapons to reflect another change in state law that takes effect Aug. 1. Loos said he couldn’t recall charging anyone with illegal possession of those items within the past three years. He said a person still can be charged with assault for deploying a stun gun or pepper spray without good cause, but added that such cases are rare.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528