ND considers bill to allow firearms in more public places



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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Health care workers told North Dakota lawmakers Thursday that a broad gun rights bill that would prohibit them from asking patients about gun ownership would hinder their work and restrict their right to free speech.

North Dakota lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow concealed carry permit holders to pack guns at more public places. The proposal also takes aim at several other gun-related issues, including the prohibition on medical workers.

Several medical workers told the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee that section of the bill interferes with the patient-doctor relationship and is contrary to accepted medical practice.

"Not asking about firearms sets up a physician for malpractice while violating their First Amendment right to free speech," said Courtney Koebele, executive director of the North Dakota Medical Association. "Simply stated, imposing this provision puts physicians in a perilous position and patients at risk."

Dr. Gabriela Balf, a Bismarck psychiatrist and former family doctor, told the committee that would continue to ask patients about firearms even if state law forbids it.

"I will be an infractor," she said.

The measure's sponsor, Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, said he possibly would be open to amending the bill to consider cases of where there was an immediate threat of suicide or harm to others.

Along with allowing loaded guns in vehicles and the use of short-barreled firearms for hunting, Streyle's legislation would make it legal for concealed permit holders to have guns at churches, political functions, music concerts and public parks.

"As a state, we have given permission for people to conceal-carry firearms, but we don't trust people to be responsible with firearms in certain locations," he said.

Paul Hammers, a municipal court judge in Napoleon and concealed carry firearm examiner, spoke in favor of the legislation.

"It's important that we clarify where we can and can't carry," he said.

The Legislature passed legislation two years ago that allows North Dakotans with a concealed carry permit to carry a gun in church, if officials there allow it and notify law enforcement.

North Dakota Catholic Conference director Christopher Dodson told lawmakers that the current law "strikes a good balance" and appropriately allows church officials, not the state, to decide if congregation members can pack heat.

Streyle's legislation also would allow concealed carry permit holders to take a weapon into a liquor establishment, as long as that person is not drinking alcohol or already intoxicated.

Rudie Martinson, director of the North Dakota Hospitality Association, said the trade group, which represents bars and restaurants, is opposed to that section of the bill.

"Allowing for concealed carry in bars creates the potential for danger to our employees, our customers and the public. It also creates potential problems for law enforcement, as well as potential issues of liability and insurability for our retailers."

"In short," Martinson said, "guns and alcohol don't mix."

The committee took no action on the measure. The full House will debate it later.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

James MacPherson

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