- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Allowing elected officials to carry firearms at the state Capitol and other public buildings would make workers feel uneasy, a spokesman for the union that represents more than 11,000 public employees in North Dakota says.

North Dakota United spokesman Stuart Savelkoul told members of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that allowing elected public officials with concealed carry permits to pack a gun in a public building “is troubling if not aggressive.”

“We believe that safety is important but so is feeling safe,” said Savelkoul, whose group represents employees ranging from kindergarten teachers to snowplow drivers. “Should this bill pass, it would make them feel less safe.”

The proposed legislation is being pushed by a dozen Republican lawmakers. The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Ben Koppelman, of West Fargo, said his “inspiration” for the bill came after October’s incident at the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, where a gunman was shot and killed by the sergeant-at-arms.

“This made me wonder what we in North Dakota would do if facing the same situation,” Koppelman told the committee, which is headed by his father, Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo. “I quickly realized that we would likely be sitting ducks.”

Ben Koppelman said his proposed legislation is a less-expensive option than installing metal detectors and boosting the number of armed security personnel at public buildings.

The proposed legislation “has the right balance of keeping our buildings and process open while allowing our elected officials to protect themselves,” he said.

Current North Dakota law forbids carrying concealed weapons in public places. There are exemptions for law enforcement officers and others. The North Dakota Highway Patrol provides armed security at the Capitol.

Lt. Tom Iverson, the patrol’s safety and education officer, told lawmakers that troopers have concerns with the proposal and that only law enforcement officers are trained specifically to respond to “active threat situations.” He said “multiple people with guns” would cause confusion in an emergency “as it is extremely difficult to determine who the real threat may be.”

Eight states presently allow citizens with a permit carry a concealed gun into public buildings, including statehouses, according to Kae Warnock, a spokesman for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several other states have or are mulling similar legislation, she said.

“This comes around literally every year,” she said.

North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Dale Sandstrom offered an amendment to the committee that would prohibit elected public officials from carrying a gun in “court facility.”

“We just want to maintain security of court proceedings,” Sandstrom told the committee, which took no action on the measure or the amendment Tuesday.

North Dakota law allows judges to have a firearm in the courtroom, though Sandstrom said he knew of no judges in the state who do so.

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