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Gov. Doug Burgum labels North Dakota a 'Second Amendment Sanctuary' as state leaders double down on pro-gun laws

At the heart of state lawmakers' pro-gun efforts lies a concern among conservatives that President Joe Biden will wield his power as president and leader of the majority party in Washington to impose restrictions on gun ownership and usage. Biden campaigned on banning the sale of assault weapons, expanding background checks and ending online gun sales.

(Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)
North Dakota Game and Fish Department / Special to The Forum
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BISMARCK — North Dakota political leaders have pumped out a series of new pro-gun laws in the last few months, citing a preemptive need to counteract Democratic President Joe Biden's hopes of tightening federal firearm regulations. The few lawmakers who stood against the legislation said Biden isn't some boogeyman coming to take residents' guns away.

The Republican-led Legislature has passed at least nine bills that expand gun rights or protect gun owners and sellers. GOP Gov. Doug Burgum has signed them all and issued a symbolic proclamation on Monday, April 26, designating North Dakota as a "Second Amendment Sanctuary State."

The edict does not carry the weight of law, but Burgum said it "sends a strong message to Congress and the White House that we will firmly resist any attempts to infringe" on the right to keep and bear firearms. Leaders in several other states have made similar declarations since Biden took office in January.

The headlining pro-gun bill of North Dakota's nearly concluded legislative session expands the existing "castle" law that permits the use of deadly force at one's home or workplace. The so-called "stand-your-ground" law, which takes effect Aug. 1, allows people in the state to use deadly force to prevent a violent felony in public instead of attempting to retreat from the situation.

While the legislation sponsored by West Fargo Republican Rep. Ben Koppelman doesn't explicitly mention firearms, it's a favorite of the National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates. Opponents argue the new law will open the door to false claims of self-defense by bad actors who were never in danger of serious harm.

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Burgum also inked his name on a bill that prohibits state and local police from helping federal agencies enforce federal gun laws if they are more restrictive than the state's statutes and were issued after the beginning of this year. Lawmakers amended the proposal pushed by Bismarck Republican Rep. Rick Becker to allow local law enforcement to aid the feds on some serious criminal investigations, but police initially slammed the bill, arguing it could hinder their ability to collaborate on any cases involving guns.

Other approved legislation will expand North Dakotans' abilities to carry concealed guns and block the state and other public entities from closing or limiting the hours of gun ranges and stores.

At the heart of lawmakers' pro-gun efforts and Burgum's public declaration lies a concern among conservatives that Biden will wield his power as president and leader of the majority party in Washington to impose restrictions on gun ownership and usage. The Delaware Democrat campaigned on banning the sale of assault weapons, expanding background checks and ending online gun sales.

Following a string of mass shootings earlier this month, Biden issued executive actions to regulate homemade firearms, known as "ghost guns." Biden's more ambitious gun control proposals would likely face a more difficult road to the law books given the partisan stalemate in the U.S. Senate.

North Dakota Rep. Dave Nehring, R-Bismarck, noted to his colleagues while presenting Becker's bill that a piece of legislation recently introduced in the U.S. House would require all guns to be licensed and registered nationally. Nehring said the "outrageous" proposal suggests hostility toward gun owners and that the state should do what it can to prevent such a law from being enforced if Biden signs it. Several other lawmakers have mentioned Biden's administration and potentially restrictive federal legislation as reason to cement pro-gun laws in state code.

Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, said lawmakers shouldn't be "living in fear" of hypothetical and unlikely laws, noting that tying the hands of local law enforcement would only help criminals in his district, which includes tribal land. Other critics say the state could be opening itself up to lawsuits by trying to nullify federal laws.

Guns are extremely popular in North Dakota, where ownership rates have remained steady over the last four decades even while national rates have significantly dropped. In 2016, residents owned at least one gun in an estimated 55% of North Dakota households — the sixth highest rate in the nation, according to a RAND Corporation database .

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Gov. Doug Burgum reads a speech in the North Dakota Capitol on April 19, 2021. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

burgum_capitol.jpg
Gov. Doug Burgum reads a speech in the North Dakota Capitol on April 19, 2021. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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