South Dakota governor vetoes bills trying to loosen gun laws

South Dakota governor vetoes bills trying to loosen gun laws

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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota's Republican governor on Friday vetoed a pair of bills that would have loosened restrictions on carrying concealed guns in the conservative state.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard had warned he would veto the bills — one to let people carry concealed handguns without a permit, the other to allow concealed weapons in the Capitol building. Daugaard has said the state's current gun laws are reasonable.

"As a longtime member of the NRA, I support the right to bear arms," Daugaard said in his veto letter for the permitless carry bill. "It is paramount that our state protect the rights of our citizens while at the same time protecting the lives of our citizens. I believe our current laws appropriately protect both interests, and I ask that you sustain my veto."

Supporters of both bills plan to attempt overrides — and if that's not successful, to try again next year. Neither bill got the two-thirds support that suggests an override would succeed. Both passed one chamber only narrowly.

Daugaard's vetoes are the latest evidence of a split between a more moderate GOP governor and a Republican-held Legislature that grew even more conservative after the last election. Daugaard is in his second term and can't immediately seek a third, and has said he's looking forward to leaving politics in 2019.

The governor rejected a permitless carry bill in 2012. In the sessions since, he has won a pair of tax increases and also vetoed a bill to restrict the school facilities transgender students could use. When a transgender bill came back this session, he threatened another veto before it was pulled.

But Daugaard, described by confidants as a thoughtful, pragmatic leader, has also supported ideas backed by conservative lawmakers. Last week, he signed a bill to give legal protections to faith-based organizations that refuse based on their religious beliefs to place children in certain households.

This session, the so-called constitutional carry bill would have allowed people who can legally carry a concealed handgun in South Dakota to do so without a permit. Right now, it's a misdemeanor for someone to carry a concealed pistol or to have one concealed in a vehicle without a permit.

Republican Rep. Lynne DiSanto, who sponsored the constitutional carry bill, said that it should be a "no-brainer" for the Republican supermajorities in the statehouse to override the veto, urging people to contact their GOP lawmakers to support gun rights.

"Gov. Daugaard just continues to disappoint," she said. "You can call him a Republican governor, because he has the, 'R,' but I wouldn't necessarily agree that he is."

The Capitol carry bill would have let people with an enhanced permit bring concealed handguns inside if they registered beforehand with security. There are no metal detectors or other security checks at the Capitol entrances to enforce the current prohibition on most people carrying guns in the building.

"During the legislative session, meaningful debates among the public and legislators are frequent and oftentimes passionate," Daugaard wrote in his veto message. "Our law enforcement officers are uniquely able to protect the public, and I believe this bill would complicate that work."

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, its main sponsor, said he hopes to override the veto when lawmakers gather in Pierre on March 27 for the final day of the 2017 session.

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