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ND Senate committee recommends concealed gun trial period in schools

BISMARCK—A close North Dakota Senate vote is expected, possibly later this week, on a bill that would create a pilot program which would permit schools to allow trained staff to have concealed carry firearms.

"I honest to God don't know which way it'll go," committee chairman Kelly Armstrong, R-Dickinson, said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee gave a "do pass" recommendation to House Bill 1310 Monday morning. The vote was 5-1 along party lines with the Republican majority in favor.

Armstrong said the vote in the Senate is expected to be close. The House has passed similar legislation in past sessions only to be killed by the Senate.

During this session, HB1310 passed the House in February by a 73-19 vote.

If a school district wants to have a trained concealed-carry individual on school grounds, it will have a number of hoops to jump through, according to Armstrong.

North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta said a large majority of the group's membership is opposed to HB1310.

"The whole issue of local control is what people will ultimately vote on," Archuleta said. "We think we're going to win, but we expect a close vote. There wasn't a hue and cry for this bill."

HB1310 would limit the number of schools that can apply to 10. Participating schools would report to the state Department of Public Instruction, which, in turn, would report to lawmakers.

Eighty hours of training would be required, and participating schools would be required to provide post-traumatic stress disorder programming for the aftermath of any potential incident.

Primary bill sponsor Rep. Dwight Kiefert, R-Valley City, said the bill is an option for rural schools without a school resource officer.

"It's a beginning. Our schools are vulnerable," said Kiefert, referring to potentially lengthy response times from law enforcement in rural areas.

Instituting a pilot program with reporting requirements would allow for the state to see how well it works, according to Kiefert, who said North Dakota has been lucky to not have experienced a mass shooting incident.

"We're trying to be proactive," Kiefert said.

The Senate, which has six new Republican members following last year's election, could be more amenable to the bill compared to past attempts, he said.