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North Dakota lawmaker eyes changes after discovering guns prohibited on Capitol grounds

State law prohibits firearm possession at a "public gathering," which includes a "publicly owned or operated building," with some exceptions.

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Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, talks on a cellphone before attending an interim committee hearing last week at the state Capitol in Bismarck. Becker drew criticism from the Democratic-NPL Party in February for sharing a Facebook meme that compared receipt of government programs to shower rape. He said social media users shouldn't post in the heat of a moment or when drinking, and that lawmakers are held to account in elections for what they do. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune
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BISMARCK — A North Dakota legislator says he's looking at changing state law after finding out people aren't allowed to carry guns on the state Capitol grounds.

Republican Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck, who successfully pushed a permitless concealed carry bill in 2017 , said he was notified on social media of a state policy that largely prohibits guns on the Capitol grounds. He advised people not to bring weapons to a pro-gun rally held in front of the building Sunday, Sept. 15, where he gave a speech.

State law prohibits firearm possession at a "public gathering," which includes a "publicly owned or operated building," with some exceptions.

The Office of Management and Budget policy states that nobody, except for law enforcement and military personnel, may possess a firearm on the Capitol grounds without prior written approval from the Highway Patrol, which provides security at the Capitol. The policy allows for guns to be locked inside a motor vehicle, however.

Facility Management Director John Boyle said the policy has likely been around for 30 years. He said he may seek legal advice to ensure it conforms with state law.

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Becker said he takes issue with state agencies issuing policies that "completely change" a law's scope without involving the Legislature, which doesn't meet again in regular session until 2021.

“The process is the big problem here. I don't think a bureaucrat should be able to just do that," he said Tuesday.

State law allows OMB to adopt rules to promote "the health, safety, and general welfare, to prohibit disturbances and disorderly assemblies, to keep the peace, and to regulate nuisances on the capitol grounds and in any of the buildings located on the capitol grounds."

Becker said it's "likely" people brought guns to Sunday's rally, though he didn't see any. Sgt. Steve Johnson of the Highway Patrol said officers from his agency didn't turn anybody away from the rally and didn't receive any reports stemming from the event.

Johnson said people carrying guns on the Capitol grounds could be asked to leave the weapon in their vehicle. They could also face a citation, he said.

Meanwhile, a state Democratic-NPL official wrote on social media that she received "multiple threats" after pointing out the OMB policy on Becker's Facebook page ahead of Sunday's rally.

Dina Baird, the party's national committeewoman, said she would inform the Bismarck Police Department about the threats. She said the threats didn't come from Becker, but she blamed the lawmaker for riling up gun rights supporters.

Becker called the alleged threats "completely unacceptable" but expressed skepticism over Baird's claims and disputed her efforts to connect him to the messages.

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In a text message, Baird declined to elaborate on her social media posts and said she was working with a private detective before going to police.

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