Sections

Weather Forecast

Close

Debate over guns in schools in ND Legislature draws out emotion

Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin testifies against House Bill 1310 in a hearing in front of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee at the state Capitol on Friday. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune1 / 2
Justin LaBar, a fourth-grade teacher at Stanley Elementary School, fights his emotions as he testifies Friday at the state Capitol in Bismarck in favor of House Bill 1310, allowing possession of concealed weapons by armed first responders in schools. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune2 / 2

BISMARCK—No one denied the importance of protecting children from harm in schools in a changing world during a Friday committee hearing. The passionate debate over whether to allow concealed carry of firearms for trained and permitted school staff members was a matter of how that additional protection would best be provided.

Rep. Dwight Kiefert, R-Valley City, said House Bill 1310 would protect children and staff by providing an increased layer of security for schools in the state's rural areas.

Kiefert said many schools may be subject to a 30- or 60-minute response time in the event of a major incident, such as a shooting.

"I think we can do a lot better than this in the state," he said. "(The) hope is to have a willing, capable person to be a first responder."

Kiefert said one school in his district has a person on staff who's a former SWAT team member. He said there could be a number of such examples across the state who could be utilized upon school board permission.

An individual would have to undergo a 40-hour law enforcement training course to learn basic tactics and topics, such as firearms proficiency and how to respond to an event. Those authorized to carry a firearm also would have to agree to coordinate with law enforcement in the event of an incident. A 10-hour annual refresher course would be required.

The training component was a major source of contention, as was liability.

Napoleon municipal judge Paul Hamers gave a nearly hourlong pitch in favor of HB1310. He said the training level was sufficient.

"This is not a bunch of cowboys running around with bazookas strapped across their backs," he said.

Hamers and others referenced past mass shootings across the country, such as Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, when 20 students and six staff members were killed before the gunman took his own life.

"This is not a good guy-bad guy situation," Russ Zeigler, of the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders, said in opposition to HB1310.

Zeigler said it's easy to say "I can do that," but no one truly knows how they'd respond to such an incident until it occurs. He threw out what-if scenarios, including if someone authorized to carry a gun missed the gunman and hit a student instead, or froze as a gunman did more damage.

"Teachers do not go into this profession with these thoughts on their minds," Zeigler said of being an armed first responder.

Valley City Public Schools Superintendent Josh Johnson agreed that a majority of teachers don't want the option.

"I believe any training short of a law enforcement officer is not acceptable," he said.

Justin LaBar, a fourth-grade teacher with Stanley Community Schools, disagreed. He said teachers and staff ought to have the option to protect themselves. LaBar choked up after mentioning how, in instances such as Sandy Hook, teachers and students were ultimately sitting ducks in classrooms.

"I would give my life for my students," LaBar said. "I wouldn't let one of them die without doing anything."

Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin said training is too much of a liability issue and law enforcement he's spoken to wouldn't be willing to train civilians.

He also said good training doesn't ensure hitting a gunman. Donlin said a 2008 Rand Corp. study of the New York Police Department from 1998 to 2006 showing officers in gunfights with suspects hit their target 18 percent of the time, and that increased to 30 percent of the time if the suspect didn't return fire.

"It's just not as easy as TV," said Donlin, adding that, even if a good guy with a gun is trained, "there's no guarantee ... they're going to win."

randomness