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North Dakota House lawmakers back off concealed carry proposal

Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, speaks in favor of HB 1426 during the 2017 North Dakota legislative session. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune file photo

BISMARCK — North Dakota House lawmakers backed away from a proposal that opponents worried would open the door to concealed weapons being carried in schools, churches and public buildings Friday, April 19.

At issue was a resurrected proposal creating a new type of concealed weapons license that would exempt permit holders from the ban on possessing firearms at public gatherings, which state law defines as schools, churches, sporting events and public buildings. The licenses would require training equivalent to what police officers receive.

Earlier this session, the House approved a bill enacting the Class 1 "exempt" licenses, but it was defeated in the Senate. A House committee then amended a separate Senate bill to include the new license type, and the legislation was debated in a conference committee with members from both chambers Friday.

Nearly two dozen education, religious and other groups opposed the proposal in a letter to lawmakers last week. They warned "worship leaders, agency heads, school boards, and university presidents will lose their right to decide whether guns will be allowed in their workplaces and institutions of learning" if the new bill became law.

"While we fully understand and respect the right of individuals to keep and bear arms, we also understand that members of the clergy and public servants have a right to feel safe in their workspaces," the letter stated.

Lawmakers agreed Friday to study the Class 1 exempt provisions while keeping in place other parts of the bill, such as allowing members of Congress and on-duty emergency response personnel who maintain firearms proficiency to pack heat in public. The legislation still be must be approved by both chambers.

Mandan Republican Rep. Todd Porter, who chairs the committee that pushed the Class 1 exempt license language, said he intended to allow schools and others to still decide whether to allow guns on their property. But he acknowledged the Senate had little interest in the proposal.

Opposition to the idea from the head of the North Dakota Association of School Resource Officers prompted a rebuke from Porter Friday.

"I always wonder if your position is to protect your job, or to protect ALL of the children in their most vulnerable gun free zone setting," he wrote in an email obtained by Forum News Service.

Porter later declined to elaborate on the message.

North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta, whose organization represents public educators and employees, welcomed the decision to remove the new licenses from the bill.

"We cannot have just anybody be carrying guns in schools and at public events," he said.

Gov. Doug Burgum has already signed legislation this session allowing public schools to participate in an "armed first responder" program. The legislation requires school-selected responders to be approved by a school board to carry a concealed firearm on school property, be endorsed by local law enforcement and complete training, among other requirements.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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