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Bill allowing concealed weapons in N.D. schools passes House

BISMARCK - After a fiery floor speech from the bill's lead sponsor, the North Dakota House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would allow concealed weapons license holders to pack heat in schools with their permission.

BISMARCK – After a fiery floor speech from the bill’s lead sponsor, the North Dakota House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would allow concealed weapons license holders to pack heat in schools with their permission.

Rep. Dwight Kiefert referred to visiting schoolchildren seated among the House members as he spoke passionately in favor of House Bill 1195. He said the bill is intended to address the response time to a shooting event in rural schools where law enforcement is more than 30 minutes away.

“Before you vote no, I’d ask you to maybe take one of these kids aside and explain to them the zigzag pattern to run to help increase their chances of survival,” said Kiefert, R-Valley City.

The House passed the bill on a vote of 53-38, with three members absent or not voting. It now goes to the Senate, which defeated Kiefert’s similar bill last session 18-27 after it passed the House 60-33.

The current bill would allow someone with a valid North Dakota concealed weapons license to carry a concealed firearm on school property with permission from the public or private school. The school must provide for training with local law enforcement and inform them of who’s authorized to carry.

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Rep. Christopher Olson, R-West Fargo, who carried the bill in the House Education Committee, called it “a low-cost, old-fashioned, tried-and-true solution to security from bad actors.” South Dakota passed a similar law last year, he noted.

“The bottom line is there is not a one-size-fits-all policy for keeping our children safe in schools,” he said.

Leaders of groups representing teachers, administrators and school boards urged the committee last week to reject the bill. During his floor speech Tuesday, Kiefert criticized a comment made by North Dakota School Boards Association Executive Director Jon Martinson, who said school boards “don’t want the option” of allowing concealed weapons in school.

“He’s saying without having the right to choose, and (if) there was a loss of life in a school shooting, he wants to sit comfortably at the funeral and blame the Legislature for not giving them the right to choose,” Kiefert said.

Kiefert also is sponsoring House Bill 1388, which would provide about $1 million in state grants to 15 small school districts so each could hire a school resource officer. He said providing resource officers for all North Dakota schools would be ideal, but it would cost an estimated $75 million a year.

“Can we look at them,” he said, referring to the children, “and say that if their school doesn’t have enough money, they’re not allowed to provide protection, and if their school hasn’t got enough money and a bad man shows up, all they can do is run and hide?”

The only lawmaker to voice concern about the bill was Rep. Bill Amerman, D-Forman, who said he wasn’t comfortable with the bill granting schools immunity from civil liability.

Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said school districts that opposed the bill last session said they didn’t want the decision because they could be blamed for an accident if they do allow firearms in schools or for a school shooting if they don’t.

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“The purpose of the immunity provision in this bill is simply to hold the school harmless from any kind of lawsuit that might come down the road from any of their decisions. So I think that’s a good safeguard in the bill,” he said.

 

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com .

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