BISMARCK-Arguments against granting rural North Dakota school districts an option to permit trained staff to have a concealed firearm carried the day Tuesday as the Senate defeated a proposed pilot program.
While the House passed House Bill 1310 earlier this session by a wide 73-19 margin, the Senate didn't see eye to eye on the issue.
Members of the Senate, among them past educators, gave firearms an "F" grade in this instance: It went down by an 18-27 vote. It was the third straight session the Senate stopped concealed carry in schools legislation in its tracks.
"When you talk to the teachers, they don't want this bill," Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, a former educator, said.
Bill carrier Sen. Diane Larson, R-Bismarck, said HB1310 was a permissive bill and wasn't forcing school districts to have someone packing a concealed firearm in their facilities.
"We should provide the options to those schools," Larson said.
HB1310 would have limited the number of schools in the program to 10. Participating schools with a trained individual would have had to report to the Department of Public Instruction, which in turn would report to lawmakers.
It required 80 hours of training - equivalent to South Dakota's school sentinel law. Schools that participate would have needed to provide post-traumatic stress disorder programming for the aftermath of any potential incident.
Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, was vehemently opposed, his voice rising to a near shout as he pleaded his case against it.
"This is not good policy, period," Robinson said. "This was a bad bill two years ago. This is a bad bill now."
Robinson, who works for Valley City State University, said the emails he received on HB1310 from educators and the public were all in opposition. He said those who contacted him asked what the Legislature was thinking considering such a bill; others said "not in my school."
Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, is a school board member in her district. She said she doubted whether a single school in the rural district she represents would have a response time of less than 20 or even 30 minutes if a tragic mass shooting were to occur.
Myrdal said, in rejecting HB1310, "we're announcing to the world" that North Dakota's rural schools are soft targets for anyone wanting to commit a mass shooting.
If local parents in her district caught wind of a major incident, Myrdal said she could envision parents flocking to the scene almost as an armed militia.
Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, said the focus should be on other areas such as improving behavioral health services in the state. She said there should be an emphasis on attacking the root causes of the problem rather than reacting when it's too late.
Lee said adding guns among large numbers of children in a school setting wasn't a good mix.
"What could possibly go wrong?" Lee said.