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Bill to allow armed first responders in schools passes Legislature

House Bill 1332, which would allow school districts to have an armed first responder in their school, has passed both legislative branches and awaits the governor's signature. The Senate's revised version of the bill was approved 75-15 Wednesday,...

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House Bill 1332, which would allow school districts to have an armed first responder in their school, has passed both legislative branches and awaits the governor's signature. The Senate's revised version of the bill was approved 75-15 Wednesday, with the majority of Democrats opposing it.

Rep. Pat Heinert (R), a retired Burleigh County sheriff, sponsored the bill.

"There are many schools in the state that don't have the opportunity for a school resource officer, so we thought we have to provide them some form of opportunity to make sure that they can keep their children safe if they feel it's necessary in their school district," he said.

The bill states that an individual chosen to become an armed first responder must either be a retired law enforcement officer or complete training equivalent to the South Dakota school sentinel program, which must include at least 80 hours of training in firearms proficiency, use of force and laws governing use of force, weapons retention and first aid. They must complete a safety training and emergency response program given to school staff, including annual active shooter training.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America's North Dakota chapter, which supports "common sense gun laws," opposes the bill.

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State volunteer leader for the organization Cheryl Biller said the organization doesn't believe that evidence supports the idea that having more guns in schools will reduce gun violence.

Biller said the group supports school resource officers, but the amount of training required by the bill for an armed first responder isn't enough.

She said they were "concerned that the training that this person would get is not nearly equal to that of what law enforcement gets."

Rep. Joshua Boschee (D) voted against the bill but does not personally have a problem with its passage.

"My primary reason for voting against it was I represent Fargo, and our school board and the people I heard from in our district were opposed to it. I certainly recognize how it's important for rural schools who don't have access to school resource officers," he said.

Sen. Rich Wardner (R), who is a former teacher, voted in favor of the bill.

"I don't know if it's necessary or not. The only reason that we passed it was there were some of the smaller schools out in the rural areas that felt that they needed that option, but I don't see any of the big schools doing it," he said.

Richardton-Taylor Schools Superintendent Brent Bautz said he understands the reason for it; some schools are in remote locations and have long response times.

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He is not sure whether Richardton would take advantage of it, though.

"I think we've always taken the road that we'd like to have law enforcement in the school, the SRO. This does give us an option, which I definitely think the school board will look at it," Bautz said. "Whether we're going to take advantage of that option, at this time, I couldn't tell you."

If they did decide to use the option, he said they would work closely with the sheriff's department.

Stark County Sheriff Corey Lee isn't fully for or against the bill and said he feels it's up to the individual school systems to decide.

"If that's something they want to do, then we will work with them and get somebody trained," he said. "Obviously, we would want them competent. There's obviously a lot of safety issues that go along with having guns in schools."

Lee said he doesn't believe armed first responders are a good replacement for a school resource officer.

"I don't believe in any way, shape or form this is a replacement for an SRO. We have a whole bunch of things that we do with SROs. We have plans to do a multitude of education things with our SRO, and we start her in the fall," he said.

Lee said to his knowledge, schools in the county are not generally in favor of it.

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