The Legislature has been reluctant to adopt restrictions on gun use, which reflects the public’s support of gun rights. This session there are a number of bills relating to guns that deserve attention.
House Bill 1537 should create some debate. Its intentions are good, but if passed we need to be sure safeguards are in place. The measure would allow law enforcement officers to seize firearms from people deemed dangerous. Under the bill, family members and law enforcement could ask for a court-issued "public safety protection order" preventing somebody from possessing a firearm for up to one year. A judge could decide to extend the order.
Among the reasons the order could be requested is if a gun owner committed or threatened violence in the past year, has been convicted of or arrested for domestic or sexual assault or has been cruel to animals. Violating the order would be a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class C felony if it happens again within a year.
"Public safety protection orders save lives by enabling people to act before warning signs escalate into tragedies," Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, the bill’s chief sponsor told a press conference. The bill has the support of some police chiefs and other officials. There have been shooting sprees nationwide where the shooter had mental health issues and intervention could have possibly prevented deaths.
West Fargo Police Chief Heith Janke noted the number of suicide calls to his department increased 40 percent in 2018. Whether this bill would reduce the number of suicide attempts is questionable. The bill, however, could make it more difficult for someone who has had weapons taken away to commit violence. Especially on the spur of the moment.
Safeguards need to be in place so if someone is taken to court the judge can be sure action is needed. Supporters argue the bill offers adequate due process protections by requiring a hearing to determine whether a public safety protection order should be granted. The bill also allows firearm owners to seek an order's termination.
This legislation has merit and should be given strong consideration.
The Tribune Editorial Board has reservations about other gun bills.
Rep. Sebastian Ertelt, R-Lisbon, is sponsoring a bill legalizing bump stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas massacre in 2017. The U.S. Department of Justice said last year it would clarify that bump stocks are illegal because they turn semiautomatic firearms into machine guns. Ertelt believes "that the executive branch of government doesn't have law-making authority." The Tribune thinks the Legislature shouldn’t be trying to override the federal government. This bill should be rejected. A challenge to the administration’s policy should be done through the courts.
Rep. Pat Heinert, R-Bismarck, has a bill geared to small schools that don’t have police resource officers. His measure would give schools the option of having an armed first responder. Whoever is chosen as a responder would need annual training and the school would have to have a plan approved by the state superintendent of public instruction. Heinert prefers that teachers not be the responders, but it would be up to the schools. The Tribune believes the best approach is to have trained law enforcement officers monitoring schools. We don’t support this bill.
There’s also proposed legislation banning the bump stocks and imposing a three-day waiting period on gun purchases. Again, the Tribune believes this is best left to the federal government.
House Bill 1325 would allow 18-year-old students and other concealed carry permit holders to have guns in public buildings. The measure has created alarm among school officials. The Tribune doesn’t believe public buildings are the proper place for concealed weapons.