North Dakota's House endorsed a package of gun-rights measures Monday that include allowing a concealed-carry permit holder to pack a gun at public gatherings, schools and churches if officials in those places allow it and notify law enforcement.
The House also approved a bill that allows people to possess a gun in public during a declared state of emergency. That measure gives gun owners the right to sue if the government attempts to confiscate weapons or ammunition during the emergency.
Rep. Randy Boehning, R-Fargo, said about 30 states have enacted such laws after New Orleans police confiscated guns while trying to restore order following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The North Dakota measure also would allow the sale of firearms and ammunition during a declared emergency.
The Republican-led chamber easily passed the measures but some Democrats were critical, especially of allowing concealed carry permit holders to have guns at school.
"I think we're giving people a sense of safety that isn't going to be here with this bill," said Rep. Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks. She said the measure was passed with little input from parents and opens school districts up to liability issues.
Some education and religious groups have told lawmakers that churches and schools would be open to potential lawsuits and increased insurance costs if the bill becomes law.
If gunfire erupted at a school, a concealed carry holder allowed to be there by school officials likely would contribute to the "chaos," said Bill Amerman, D-Foreman.
Amerman, who served as an infantryman in Vietnam, said even highly trained soldiers can experience confusion under fire. He said "Joe Average" patrolling a school might "shoot his foot, the blackboard, three lights and a window" under fire. Gunfire also could hit the innocent, he said.
"Guns don't kill people, people kill people (but) good people with guns who have no idea where bullets are going" also kill people, he said.
Dwight Kiefert, R-Valley City, said some larger school districts in North Dakota have hired armed officers to patrol the schools. He said placing law enforcement officers at every school in North Dakota would cost about $75 million annually, or more than the state can afford.
Supporters of the gun-rights measures have said the aim is create an efficient and cost-effective way to protect people at school and at church. Just passing the law also would serve as a deterrent, they said.
The number of concealed carry permits in North Dakota has quadrupled in the past decade, to more than 22,000. State Bureau of Criminal Investigation records show the agency issued 12,614 concealed carry permits in 2012, up from 5,634 in 2011. Permits are on the rise statewide, especially in the oil patch communities of western North Dakota, data show.
Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, a sponsor of the bill that would allow people with concealed carry permits to pack guns at public gatherings, said the only people who might have a gun at such gatherings "are law enforcement, if they're there, and criminals."
Page 2 of 2 - Becker said if a "whack job" came to such a gathering now, "the only reasonable option would be to wait for the person to empty the clip and taken them down while reloading."