BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Senate on Thursday voted down measures allowing concealed-weapon permit holders to carry guns at schools or public gatherings, but approved a bill that would let those with permits to pack firearms in church.
All three measures easily passed the state House last month. The Senate was more critical of the proposals, questioning whether more guns would lead to accidental shootings and put weapons in the hands of people not adequately trained to react in emergencies.
However, senators offered no clear explanation for why they chose to pass the bill allowing people with permits to bring their guns to church. That measure will now go to Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple.
Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo, said obtaining a concealed-carry permit in North Dakota consists of an open-book test and a few hours of instruction.
"Maybe even I could pass it and I'm partially blind and don't like guns," she said.
Sen. Stanley Lyson, R-Williston, said he doubts that allowing concealed weapons in public places improves safety for citizens.
"Guns are not the answer in all of these gatherings," said Lyson, a former Williams County sheriff who has a concealed-carry permit.
Supporters of the gun-rights measures have said the aim was to create an efficient and cost-effective way to protect people and to prevent tragedies such as December's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 students and six educators died.
In testimony held earlier on the measures, education officials and teachers opposed allowing guns in North Dakota schools. And members of education and religious groups told lawmakers that schools and churches would be open to potential lawsuits and increased insurance costs.
Under the measures, those with concealed-weapon permits would be allowed to carry guns inside schools or churches only if officials at the buildings permitted it.
Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, said allowing an authorized person to pack a weapon would be helpful at schools in rural, sparsely populated counties. For example, Bowman County, where he lives, only has a sheriff and one deputy.
"If someone started shooting, how many would he shoot before someone could be there to protect them?" he said.
Senators defeated the guns in schools measure 27-18, a sharp contrast to their 28-17 vote in favor of allowing weapons in places of worship.
Sen. Lyson, the former sheriff, also questioned the need for parishioners to be packing guns, even if approved by church officials.
"Why would we want to have weapons in church?" he said. "What are we worried about in our churches?"
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.
Page 2 of 2 - Permits are on the rise statewide, especially in the oil patch communities of western North Dakota, data show.