Lawmaker wants change to no-gun policy at state Capitol

Published: Sep. 17, 2019 at 4:26 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

A North Dakota lawmaker wants to ensure firearms are legal on the state Capitol grounds after a gun rights rally he hosted there drew some supporters who were probably armed.

Bismarck Republican Rep. Rick Becker said Tuesday he will introduce legislation to change the policy when the Legislature reconvenes in 2021. Dozens attended the “Shall Not Be Infringed Rally” Sunday on the steps of the Capitol to support gun rights and combat efforts in Congress to expand background checks and oppose “red flag” laws, which let courts remove guns from people who might threaten themselves or others.

Current policy prohibits firearms on the 130-acre Capitol grounds. Becker said he only learned of the rule the day before the rally, and warned followers on Facebook about it.

Still, Becker believed some at the rally were armed.

“I did not see anyone carrying but if I was a betting man, I’d bet there were,” said Becker, a plastic surgeon who made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2016. He also leads a group of ultraconservative House members who call themselves the Bastiat Caucus.

Ondine Baird, a state Democratic party official and its national committeewoman, pointed out the no-gun policy on Becker’s Facebook page, which led to some contentious exchanges between the two. Baird later posted that she and her family had received threats for the posts and intended to contact police.

Baird said in a statement to The Associated Press that she’s “working with a private detective before engaging law enforcement because from experience I know their ability to work cyber crime is very limited.”

Becker said he was “dubious” of Baird’s claims, but said that if true, they should be denounced.

North Dakota’s policy against carrying firearms on the state Capitol grounds was enacted 1989, said Capitol Facilities Manager John Boyle. The policy was renewed in 2012 and 2018, and Boyle signed off on it both times.

Becker believes the policy should not be left in the hands of a “single administrator or bureaucrat.” Boyle said the policy was crafted in cooperation with the state Highway Patrol, which provides security at the Capitol and its grounds.

Trooper Sgt. Steve Johnson, who heads security at the Capitol, said carrying a gun on the state Capitol grounds is an infraction, which is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.

No one was cited for an infraction for carrying a firearm on Sunday, Johnson said.

State law is “unclear as to the applicability” of carrying a firearm on the Capitol grounds but it does allow for the policy decision that’s in place, said John Bjornson, director of the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s nonpartisan research arm.