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Senate splits on 6-bill firearm legislation package

BISMARCK -- Senate lawmakers split their votes Thursday over a six-bill package of firearm legislation.

Lawmakers said concealed weapons should not be allowed in schools, but they are welcome in churches with the permission of a church leader.

Other bills that passed include one to require nonviolent felons to file a petition with the state's attorney to gain their gun rights and another to allow concealed weapons in gaming sites, or any place that sells lottery tickets.

House Bill 1215, which would allow school districts to decide who can carry a concealed weapon on school grounds, with a proper permit, drew the most debate.

The bill still failed even after it was stripped of its contentious language that would have allowed a school board to decide who carries a firearm while in a closed-door, executive session.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dwight Kiefert, R-Valley City, said he didn't expect it to fail, adding that South Dakota passed a similar concept only weeks ago and North Dakota should have been able to do the same thing.

"It's a white flag now for schools and says we're not defended," Kiefert said. "If this passed, at least the (gunmen) would have had to think twice."

The Department of Public Instruction came out against the proposal, arguing that it would add unnecessary liabilities and responsibilities. The bill aimed to help rural schools that don't have direct access to nearby law enforcement, but most rural schools were against the proposal.

House Bill 1283, which passed 28-17 despite the Senate Judiciary Committee's do-not-pass recommendation, would allow an individual with a Class 1 concealed weapons permit to carry in a church building or other place of worship with the approval of the primary religious leader or governing body.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, said she opposed most of the measures but supported the bill to ensure that the separation of church and state is upheld and churches can make their own decisions.

"I'm not going to tell churches how to run their operations," she told the Senate members.

Sen. Stan Lyson, R-Williston, has adamantly opposed the gun bills in the Senate Judiciary Committee and did Thursday.

He agreed with Triplett's concern, but said guns are certainly not needed in a church since there are rarely any problems.

"I feel just as comfortable in church as I do in my living room," he said, "and I certainly don't carry a gun in my living room."

While the two bills were specific to schools and churches, another proposal would have created a broad exemption, allowing anyone with a concealed weapon permit to carry while at a public gathering.

House Bill 1366, sponsored by Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, failed by a 36-9 vote.

Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo, told the floor she couldn't imagine maintaining control of a public gathering if an incident occurred and multiple people were carrying weapons.

"When everything breaks loose, people sometimes get a little crazy," she said.

Concerns over the ability to obtain a permit came up, with some worried it's too easy to get a permit.

A bill that would have prohibited state entities from enforcing new federal firearm regulations was the third bill to fail.