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House says no to conceal-carry in Capitol, yes to packing heat in public parks

BISMARCK - The North Dakota House narrowly defeated a bill Tuesday that would have allowed lawmakers and some other public officials to pack heat in the state Capitol and other public buildings, before approving a bill that would allow concealed ...

BISMARCK – The North Dakota House narrowly defeated a bill Tuesday that would have allowed lawmakers and some other public officials to pack heat in the state Capitol and other public buildings, before approving a bill that would allow concealed weapons in public parks.

Representatives voted 45-47 to defeat House Bill 1157, with two members were absent. Lead sponsor Rep. Ben Koppelman said was inspired by the Oct. 22, 2014, shootings at the Canadian parliament in Ottawa.

The House Judiciary Committee amended the original bill to clarify which public officials with a concealed weapons license could carry in public buildings. It would have applied to elected public officials or appointed statewide officeholders, members of the Legislature, members of a governing body of a county or city, and school board members. Court facilities also were excluded from the places officials could carry.

Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said allowing lawmakers to carry concealed weapons in the Capitol might make would-be gunmen think twice about attacking the chamber.

The Capitol doesn’t use metal detectors but does have armed Highway Patrol guards, he noted, saying, “I’m sure they would do their best to get here as quickly as possible.

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“However, that would probably be after one or two clips were unloaded into this chamber,” he said.

A Highway Patrol lieutenant was among those who raised concerns about the bill in committee, saying a gunman in the House or Senate chambers would create “mass chaos,” and that having multiple people drawing weapons would make it hard for officers to identify the real threat.

Koppelman said a concern also was raised about a legislator missing the target, and he acknowledged that could create a risk.

“However, that compared to the loss of life that could happen with being completely unarmed and not having any way to fight back is much greater,” he said.

The Judiciary Committee gave the bill an 8-5 do-not-pass recommendation. Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, who carried the bill, said state law for obtaining a concealed weapons permit is “very, very easy,” and members felt they “would probably be safer if we left the guns to the Highway Patrol.”

Rep. Diane Larson, R-Bismarck, also voted against the bill, saying it “seems to set us apart as an elite group of people that would be able to have this privilege.”

Eight states currently allow citizens with a concealed weapons permit or license to carry a concealed weapon into public buildings or the statehouse, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Rep. Bill American, D-Forman, a Vietnam veteran who said he has “more guns than I know what to do with,” said if lawmakers change their way of life in response to terrorist acts, “terrorism wins, maybe just a little bit.”

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“I can’t give them that little victory,” he said.

House members voted 67-26 in favor of HB 1450, also introduced by Koppelman, which would remove public parks from the list of public places where it’s a Class B misdemeanor to possess a firearm or dangerous weapon. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, raised concern that the bill takes away local control. Cities are already allowed to pass ordinances less restrictive than the state law.

Earlier this month, House lawmakers passed HB1195, which would allow conceal-carry on school property with permission from the public or private school and training from local law enforcement. That bill also awaits action in the Senate.

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

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