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Karla Rose Hanson

State Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, promotes her "red flag" bill while police chiefs and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, listen at the state Capitol recently. The bill would allow a judge to order someone considered dangerous to give up their guns for a year.

The North Dakota House rejected a bipartisan bill allowing judges to issue protection orders temporarily preventing people deemed dangerous from possessing guns Tuesday, Feb. 19.

The so-called “red flag” bill, championed by Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, failed in a 76-17 vote. It was backed by the police chiefs from Fargo and West Fargo as a way to address a rising number of suicide calls. Proponents argued it could also help prevent mass shootings.

Hanson invoked the shooting death of Fargo police officer Jason Moszer in 2016 and the Sandy Hook school shooting while urging her colleagues to pass the bill in an effort to reduce gun violence.

"Public safety protection orders will save lives by allowing law enforcement and families to intervene in a crisis before there's irreversible harm done," she said.

The bill would have allowed family members and law enforcement to seek a court-issued “public safety protection order” preventing somebody from possessing firearms for up to one year, although a judge could extend the order. Law enforcement could have sought a warrant to seize firearms from people officers believed were dangerous under the bill.

Violating a protection order would be a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class C felony if it happens again within a year. Knowingly seeking a protection order with false information would have been a Class A misdemeanor.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia already have such a law, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. Florida enacted one after last year’s deadly high school shooting in Parkland.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, was among the eight Republican cosponsors of the legislation. But it faced skepticism in a Republican-controlled Legislature that has expanded gun rights in recent years, and some of the GOP bill co-sponsors even voted against the proposal Tuesday.

Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, the chief backer of a successful permitless carry bill two years ago, argued the bill ran afoul of constitutional firearm and due process rights. He said efforts to seek a protection order could be based on seemingly minor hints of future violence.

"Make no mistake, the bill before us is without exaggeration a gun-grabbing bill," he said. "It supposes that the ends justify the means."

Bill supporters maintained it included adequate due process protections because it allowed for evidence-based hearings and for firearm owners to seek an order's termination. Hanson sought to dispel "mild hysteria" about her proposal and said similar laws elsewhere have withstood court scrutiny.

"This legislation is constitutional," she said. "Our society balances the right to bear arms with the right for public safety."

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