Keep ‘dangerous’ mentally ill from buying guns, committee says

Federal law prohibits the dangerously mentally ill from purchasing firearms. But South Dakotans who are involuntarily committed for being a danger to themselves or others dodge that law right now, because South Dakota doesn’t submit lists of the dangerous mentally ill to the federal background check system.

That’s on the verge of changing. On Tuesday morning, a Senate committee voted 5-2 for a bill to begin filing that mental illness information with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

The measure, House Bill 1229, would require mental health officials to notify the federal government if someone were involuntarily committed for being a danger to one’s self or others. Prosecutors would be required to tell NICS if someone were acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity, or declared unfit to stand trial.

HB1229 also sets up a process by which people who believe they are no longer mentally ill can ask South Dakota judges to restore their gun rights. Supporters say that bypasses a much more cumbersome process of appealing to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

South Dakota already reports other information to NICS, including when someone is convicted of a felony.

A similar measure was shot down last year. But with support this time from the National Rifle Association, it’s having better luck this year. If the South Dakota Senate approves the bill, it will head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for a signature.

"To me it’s one of the reasonable, responsible responses we can make to all the issues of gun violence in our society today," said Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City.

But while the NRA and the National Shootings Sports Association backs the measure, a different gun group is fiercely opposing it as an attack on the Second Amendment. The National Association of Gun Rights and its South Dakota affiliate, South Dakota Gun Owners, have urged their members to contact lawmakers and lobby for a no vote.

Neither group testified on Tuesday before the Senate committee.

"I’ve been deluged with emails and I’m kind of surprised there’s no one here to oppose it," said Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell.

Several lawmakers found the law concerning.

Sen. Tim Begalka, R-Clear Lake, worried that it’s too hard to get off the NICS registry, even with the new system set forth in HB1229. He opposed granting more power to the federal government and worried that veterans could find themselves unable to buy guns because they seek treatment for PTSD.

"I don’t believe we have a problem in South Dakota," Begalka said. "We’ve gone years without this. I believe we’re ostracizing the mentally ill."

Sen. Jeff Monroe, R-Pierre, said the rapid growth of mental illness diagnoses in recent decades makes him leery of barring gun purchases because of someone’s mental health.

Tieszen, though, said the law is narrow and wouldn’t apply to most people with mental health issues.

"If we have a veteran who comes home and is dangerously mentally ill and is a danger to themselves or their community, don’t we want them to not have easy access to firearms?" Tieszen said.

House has no appetite for more debate on sexual orientation

Last night, the House State Affairs Committee killed a bill to protect people’s right to criticize and act against people on the basis of their sexual orientations. 

Today, Rep. Stace Nelson tried to use a “smokeout” to force the defeated bill, House Bill 1251, down to the House floor for a new round of debate.

Only five of 70 representatives stood in support of the motion: Nelson and Reps. Blaine Campbell, Dan Kaiser, Lance Russell and Manny Steele.

It needed support from 24 representatives in order to be revived and placed on the House’s debate calendar. 

Rep. Steve Hickey, who had sponsored similar legislation that was also unsuccessful, said South Dakota lawmakers have debated the issue enough this year.

"There’s been three or four bills like this. I was the author of two of them," Hickey said. "We’ve talked about this in more than just that committee."

Also on Thursday, an attempt by Campbell to revive his bill making it a felony to enforce federal or local gun restrictions in South Dakota failed with around a dozen lawmakers standing out of the 24 needed.

One smokeout attempt did succeed Thursday. Rep. Elizabeth May said House Bill 1215 had a mixup in its hearing, and got well more than half the House to support her. Lawmakers will decide Friday whether to add it to their debate calendar.

Bill criminalizing federal, local gun restrictions defeated

South Dakota lawmakers said no Tuesday to a measure making it a felony to enforce federal gun laws in the state.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Blaine Campbell, R-Rapid City, also removed the ability for local governments to regulate guns.

Campbell and a national lobbyist, Brenden Boudreau of the National Association for Gun Rights, said it was important for South Dakota to protect its citizens’ Second Amendment rights from encroachment.

"It makes it… a crime to violate a South Dakotan’s right to keep and bear arms

But the state Department of Public Safety and representatives of the state’s cities and sheriffs both opposed the bill. They worried it could put law enforcement into no-win situations — such as having to arrest U.S. marshalls for enforcing a gun-free zone in a federal courthouse.

"We’ve got good (gun) laws that have worked well," said Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls. "There isn’t a problem."

Others said the bill would prove unconstitutional. That included the Legislature’s own lawyers, who in an analysis of its cost said most of the bill was “in all likelihood, unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

In questioning, Hajek established that the National Association for Gun Rights had provided Campbell with model language for his bill.

The House Local Government Committee voted 8-4 to kill the measure.

The two gun votes

Earlier today, state representatives voted down a bill allowing guns in the Capitol in a complicated series of events — first Rep. Steve Hickey successfully weakened the bill with an amendment that narrowly passed, then the amended bill fell just short.

Votes on the two roll calls were all over the place, and fascinating. Here’s how it broke down:

Voted for both Hickey’s amendment and the amended bill (9):

  • Hickey
  • Hoffman
  • Lust
  • Mickelson
  • Rasmussen
  • Romkema
  • Sly
  • Stevens
  • Westra

Voted for Hickey’s amendment but against the final bill (26):

  • Anderson
  • Bartling
  • Bolin
  • Cammack
  • Dryden
  • Duvall
  • Erickson
  • Hajek
  • Hawks
  • Hawley
  • Heinert
  • Johns
  • Killer
  • Kirschman
  • Langer
  • Novstrup (David)
  • Parsley
  • Peterson
  • Ring
  • Schaefer
  • Schrempp
  • Soli
  • Solum
  • Tulson
  • Tyler
  • Wismer

Voted for the amendment, missed the final vote (2):

  • Feinstein
  • Rozum

Voted against the amendment, but for the amended bill (24):

  • Campbell
  • Conzet
  • Craig
  • Cronin
  • Ecklund
  • Gosch
  • Greenfield
  • Haggar (Don)
  • Haggar (Jenna)
  • Heinemann (Leslie)
  • Kaiser
  • Kopp
  • Latterell
  • Magstadt
  • May
  • Olson (Betty)
  • Otten (Herman)
  • Qualm
  • Russell
  • Schoenfish
  • Stalzer
  • Steele
  • Wick
  • Wink

Voted against both the amendment and the amended bill (8):

  • Carson
  • Feickert
  • Gibson
  • Hunhoff (Bernie)
  • Munsterman
  • Rounds
  • Verchio
  • Werner

Voted against the amendment, was absent for the final vote (1):

  • Nelson (who indicated he would have voted no)

Tags: guns

Guns in Capitol rejected after acrimonious debate

With a representative of the National Rifle Association in the building and watching votes, an acrimonious South Dakota House of Representatives rejected a call to allow guns in the state Capitol Wednesday.

Current state law bars firearms in all courthouses and the state Capitol, except for authorized law enforcement and judges. Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, proposed to repeal that restriction for the Capitol. She said lawmakers and other citizens should be able to protect themselves from any attack.

But Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, succeeded narrowly in limiting the scope of Olson’s bill. Under his amendment, adopted 37-33, guns would be allowed during the Capitol except on days when the Legislature or Supreme Court was meeting.

"Let’s relax the gun-free zone quite a bit," Hickey said. "(But) during legislative session let’s listen to our law enforcement officers and let them do what they do here."

The amendment stirred up emotions on the House floor. Rep. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, called Hickey’s amendment “idiotic” and “ridiculous,” drawing a response from an irate Hickey. Each accused the other of “playing games” with the legislation.

Several conservative lawmakers came out against the amended bill, saying it compromised citizens’ gun rights by putting any limits on when they could carry guns in the Capitol.

"Do we really want to put our vote of approval on this bill that admittedly violates the Constitution of the United States and South Dakota?" said Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton.

Supporters and opponents each accused the other of living in fear.

"When are we going to get out of this culture of living in fear?" said Rep. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, saying he didn’t see the need to arm lawmakers for their own defense.

"Those who live in fear are the people who are afraid of law-abiding, gun-toting citizens," retorted Rep. Don Kopp, R-Rapid City.

The final margin was razor-thin. Lawmakers rejected the gun measure with 33 yes votes and 34 no votes, three short of the necessary 36-vote threshold.

This was Olson’s second try this year to allow guns in the Capitol. Another attempt, allowing elected officials to bear arms in the Capitol and courthouses, was defeated by a larger margin earlier in the session.

House gives firm no to armed officials in public buildings

South Dakota lawmakers resoundingly rejected a proposal Thursday to allow themselves and other elected officials to carry guns into public buildings.

Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, said public officials are “very vulnerable” to potential shooters and said the 2011 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords in an Arizona parking lot got her thinking about security.

"Just the fact that there’s a chance that there would be some of those concealed weapons on our persons sitting in this (room) might be the only deterrent that we need," Olson said.

But a variety of lawmakers criticized the proposal, saying it armed public officials could be ineffective and dangerous.

"How many different guns will we have going off?" said Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre. "I think we’d have a bigger mess than if one shooter was allowed to take his shots until law enforcement arrived."

Others said it was bad form to give elected officials a privilege that ordinary citizens didn’t have.

"This bill is saying we’re special. We’re carving out a niche for ourselves," said Rep. Jim Peterson, D-Revillo. "I feel that’s wrong."

Olson defended her proposal, saying it was only common sense.

"The fact that we’re here as elected officials with our (concealed weapons) does not make us special. It just makes us safer," she said.

After spirited debate, though, Olson’s bill was shot down 49-18.

South Dakota law forbids guns in courthouses and the Capitol, with the exception of law enforcement and judges.

Lawmakers vote to let officials carry concealed weapons in public buildings

Elected officials should be able to carry guns into courthouses and the state Capitol, a South Dakota legislative committee voted Tuesday.

The bill, HB1066, was a scaled down version of Rep. Betty Olson’s original proposal. Olson, a Prairie City Republican, originally suggested letting anyone with a concealed weapons permit bring their arms into public buildings. She then suggested limiting it to just elected officials and public employees. Finally, Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, proposed applying the exception only to elected officials.

"This bill was brought to defend those of us in this room and those county officials in the courtrooms," said Olson.

The measure must pass the full House, a Senate committee and the full Senate in order to become law.

She said she began to worry about legislators’ safety after the 2011 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords at an event in an Arizona parking lot.

Currently, the state Capitol and all courthouses in the state bar firearms except by authorized law enforcement personnel and judges.

Several members of the committee said they thought Olson’s original bill was too broad, but that they could sign on to the narrowed down version.

"This does deserve a bit of discussion," said Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre. "I would have voted no against the original bill."

An earlier attempt to defeat the bill failed by a single vote, 7-6, after a parade of groups testified against it. The state Department of Public Safety, the state Unified Judicial System, associations representing the state’s sheriffs, police chiefs, cities and towns, and county officials, and the State Bar of South Dakota were all among the opponents.

"Firemen don’t take gasoline to fires. Firearms in the courtroom are just a terrible idea, unless they’re law enforcement," said Tom Barnett, executive director of the State Bar.

On the committee, Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, said exempting elected officials was mistake.

"This would be another example of elected officials trying to make an exception just for them," Hajek said. "I do not want to be part of a South Dakota Legislature that would say the rules are different for us."

Rep. Karen Soli, D-Sioux Falls, pointed out a philosophical division on the committee between those who believe “we’re safer in a room of people, many of whom are carrying concealed weapons” and those who “feel safer if they’re prohibited from doing so.”

After an 8-5 vote on final passage, HB1066 now heads to the full House of Representatives.

Earlier on Tuesday, the same committee rejected another gun bill from Olson. She had proposed eliminating the $10 fee charged to applicants for a concealed weapons permit.

"I find it wrong that we are charging people to enjoy one of their constitutional rights," said Nelson, a supporter of Olson’s bill.

But a majority of the committee disagreed. Of the $10 fee, $3 goes to pay for conducting the background checks required for concealed weapons applicants, while the rest goes to the state’s general fund.

This year, the fee produced $193,000 for the state, and $83,000 for counties.

"Somebody’s going to pay for the background check," said Rounds, suggesting a small fee on applicants was better than taking it out of taxes.

The committee voted 8-5 to kill that bill, after also rejecting an alternative from Hajek to double the fee to $20. Hajek made her proposal after testimony that South Dakota’s neighbors all charge between $50 and $110 for concealed weapons permits.

The McCook-Wintermute Affair

After I wrote this week about Rep. Betty Olson’s proposal to allow permitted concealed handguns in public buildings, a reader opposed to her proposal sent me an except from Doane Robinson’s “The History of South Dakota” about an 1873 incident involving a firearm and an emotional public debate.

Whether you feel this has any bearing on Olson’s bill is up to you (the incident described happened in a place called “Morrison’s hall,” apparently not a courthouse or other public building, but is not wholly irrelevant). I’m posting it mostly because it’s a fascinating glimpse at South Dakota’s early territorial history — including lots of names South Dakotans will recognize, like McCook, Moody, Brookings, Spink, Hanson, Faulk, Hand, Brown and Tripp, 

Here is Robinson’s account of the “McCook-Wintermute Affair”: 

Tags: history Guns

Olson: allow concealed firearms in public buildings

Concealed firearms should be allowed in public South Dakota buildings, a conservative Republican lawmaker is proposing.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, would let people with official concealed weapons permits from the state carry their concealed guns into public buildings like courthouses and the state Capitol.

"You’ve paid the $10 for the (concealed weapons permit) fee, you’ve passed all the background checks, and you should legally be able to bring it into public buildings in South Dakota," Olson said.

Olson said people in many public buildings, including lawmakers in the Capitol, are “sitting ducks” for a potential attacker and that law enforcement is sometimes spread too thin to protect people. Letting them carry their own weapons, Olson said, would let them protect themselves.

But Olson is likely to face resistance to her proposal. Greg Sattizahn, the state court administrator for the Unified Judicial System, said UJS would “have significant concerns” with any proposal to allow citizens to carry concealed weapons into courthouses.

"My biggest concern is the courthouse really invites very emotionally charged cases," Sattizahn said. "We don’t have our own security, we rely on the local sheriffs for security."

Security in the Capitol is provided by the South Dakota Highway Patrol.

Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead and a retired judge, said he doesn’t like the sound of Olson’s bill either.

"The fact that I may have a permit to carry a concealed weapon doesn’t mean I may not harbor ill will," Johns said. "It doesn’t certify that I may not do something."

Olson retorted that in the majority of South Dakota courthouses without metal detectors, there’s little to stop people now from bringing guns in illegally.

"This would just allow me to legally bring one in if I have been approved by the state to legally carry that weapon," she said.

The bill would not allow firearms into federal courthouses, over which South Dakota has no authority.

Olson’s proposal, HB1066, has been assigned to the House Local Government committee, but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

School sentinel rules approved

Any interested South Dakota school districts can move forward with arming volunteer defenders.

A state panel this week approved rules for implementing the new “school sentinel” program if any schools choose to participate. That program, set up by a law passed earlier this year, allows schools to designate volunteer “sentinels” who will be able to carry guns on campus to protect the school.

Under the rules approved this week, sentinels have to first undergo 80 hours of state training in firearms proficiency and other areas.

It’s unclear if any school districts will seek to participate in the school sentinels program.

Tags: Guns

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