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ND legislators sign off on bill banning domestic violence offenders from firearms; still need to decide on guns in schools

FARGO – Now that Gov. Doug Burgum has signed off on untrained, permitless concealed carry – coined as “constitutional carry” — the North Dakota Legislature is dealing with two other gun-related bills.

One of the bills would require domestic violence offenders to surrender firearms or other dangerous weapons to law enforcement. The other would create a pilot program allowing qualified people to carry a hidden, loaded firearm in K-12 schools.

The House and most recently the Senate recently signed off on the measure dealing with domestic violence offenders. The Senate passed the bill Friday, March 24, and an official for Burgum said he’s not sure when the bill will make it to the governor’s desk.

Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, said the bill only deals with domestic violence offenders who are already legally obligated or court-ordered from having firearms. He said the bill supports and protects victims of domestic violence and officers enforcing the law.

“It’s giving cops a little more discretion in how they would take guns away from those who aren’t supposed to have them,” Armstrong said.

If the court has probable cause to believe the offender is likely to use, display or threaten to use the firearm in any further acts of violence, the bill states the offender would need to surrender the firearm to the sheriff of the county in which they live. If the firearm is not surrendered, law enforcement may arrest the offender and take possession of the firearm.

"This bill would make it clear our law enforcement officers can arrest someone who isn't complying with the terms of a domestic violence restraining order,” Cathy Lee, a volunteer with the North Dakota chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said in a written statement. “As our representatives recognized, it's an opportunity to better protect domestic violence survivors."

Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement formed after the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six staff members. Moms is part of Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country.

Although Lee was pleased with representatives supporting the bill, she said in a separate statement that she was “extremely disappointed” in the state’s elected leaders for passing constitutional carry. “As a concerned mom, angered by this careless decision, I will continue to fight for the safety of my community,” Lee stated. “We will not be silent while our legislators gamble with our safety.”

Guns in schools

Early this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the bill that would allow qualified people to carry a hidden, loaded firearm in K-12 schools with the school’s permission and completion of armed-responder training.

The House overwhelmingly approved the bill 73-19 last month. If it passes the Senate committee, it will head to the Senate floor for approval.

A similar bill passed the House two years ago, Armstrong said, but died in the Senate. This session’s version has “changed significantly,” but he said it’s anyone’s guess on whether it will pass.

Armstrong said the bill is based off the “school sentinels” program in South Dakota’s Tri-Valley School District. The school board there approved the program last year after the state passed a law in 2013 giving school boards discretion on whether to allow guns in schools. Critics say school sentinels offer a false sense of security, but school officials said because of the district’s remote location it allows for a quicker response to emergency situations.

A recent survey of 850 North Dakota residents by polling firm SurveyUSA found that 68 percent oppose or strongly oppose allowing people to carry loaded guns in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.

Under the proposed pilot program in North Dakota, districts would have to opt in and determine who they will send through training. Armstrong said the bill is not a “teachers-carrying guns bill,” but the names of those selected as sentinels would be confidential. Sentinels are anonymous in South Dakota.

Approval of a law allowing the carrying of a concealed firearm in school is conditional upon the individual “agreeing to cooperate in training with local law enforcement for school emergencies to provide a coordinated response to building lockdown and active killer events,” the bill reads.

Training consists of 40 hours of instruction on deadly force, firearm proficiency and first aid treatment of gunshot wounds. A first-armed responder must also attend annual training and recertification courses, a minimum of 10 hours of instruction and assessment.

Under current law, trained law enforcement and security officers can carry guns in schools, but this bill would allow civilians to carry.

Despite the passage of constitutional carry, schools in the state are still gun-free zones.

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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