WDAY: The News Leader

Published January 22, 2013, 06:27 PM

North Dakota lawmakers mull guns in schools and churches

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — David Nerud may be deep in prayer at his West Fargo church, but his peace of mind apparently comes from packing a pistol.

By: JAMES MacPHERSON,Associated Press, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — David Nerud may be deep in prayer at his West Fargo church, but his peace of mind apparently comes from packing a pistol.

The retired Army soldier and security consultant told lawmakers Tuesday that church leaders gave him permission to bring a gun to worship after a pastor there was threatened a couple of years ago "from an organization that could really do harm."

He would not elaborate on the threat in an interview with The Associated Press.

North Dakota law forbids carrying concealed weapons in public places. But a bill sponsored by Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, would allow someone with a concealed weapon permit to carry a gun inside a school or church if officials there allow it.

Koppelman, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told the body Tuesday that he introduced the bill after he learned of the problems at the West Fargo church. Like Nerud, he wouldn't go into detail about the alleged threat.

Koppelman had heard that Nerud, who has a concealed carry permit, was bringing his weapon with him to worship and told Nerud, "I think you're breaking the law, but I'll try to fix it."

Education groups and North Dakota Catholic Conference director Christopher Dodson told lawmakers that churches and schools would be open to potential lawsuits and increased insurance costs if the bill becomes law.

Dodson said the legislation would be "creating a new area of litigation exposure ... it would open ourselves to liability."

Jon Martinson, director of the state School Boards Association, said his group was "not thrilled" about the proposed legislation that would allow guns in schools.

"My concern is we're looking for a safe, easy answer — that (we think that) if we pass legislation, it's going to go away," Martinson said.

North Dakota School Boards Association spokeswoman Bev Nielson said schools would be better served if the state funded armed law enforcement officers at the facilities instead of allowing "someone who can shoot a tin can off a log" patrol the buildings.

L. Jay Reinke, pastor of Lutheran churches in Williston and Grassy Butte, said he supported to the proposal. He said allowing authorized people to carry guns at churches and schools is not endangering lives, but protecting them.

If gunfire erupted at one of his churches, "I likely would be the first one taken out," Reinke said. "But I want someone there to protect the children and their families."

Bryan McKown, a Fargo resident, said the bill creates an efficient and cost-effective way to protect people at school and at church. Just passing the law would serve as a deterrent to "anyone who wishes to do harm at church or school," he said.