To: Senate Industry, Business and Labor Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: House Bill 1438 - Guns on Private Property
Date: March 22, 2011

The North Dakota Catholic Conference opposes House Bill 1438 in its current form for two reasons. First, because it infringes upon the rights of religious entities. Second, because it does not exempt places where social services are provided.

Respect for the Rights of Religious Entities
The North Dakota Catholic Conference believes that government should not infringe upon the right of a religious entity to direct its affairs according to its tenets unless the government has a compelling government interest and uses the least restrictive means to further that interest. HB 1438 fails that to meet that standard.

Some religious groups have moral objections to firearms and, understandably, would want policies reflecting those beliefs. The State of North Dakota should respect that right. House Bill 1438 exempts situations where the possession of a firearm is prohibited by other laws, but the only other law relevant to property owned by religious entities is Section 62.1-02-05. That section, however, only prohibits the possession of firearms at “churches or church functions.” It is questionable whether that section applies to church parking lots and surrounding property. It certainly would not apply to church camps, monasteries, convents, and cemeteries. All property owned owned leased by religious entities should be exempt to ensure that the entity’s constitutional rights are not infringed.

Providers of Social Services
As providers of social services, the Catholic Church is also concerned about the ability of providers to enact policies that, in their experience and practice, best protect their patients and clients, especially the most vulnerable.

For hospitals, long-term care centers, residential treatment facilities, counseling centers, daycares, and preschools, the safety of those they serve is the first priority. House Bill 1438 appears to recognize that the location of some services should be exempt for safety reasons. It exempts, for example, elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as colleges and universities. It does not, however, exempt preschools or daycares. It exempts correctional facilities, but not hospitals, nursing homes, treatment centers, camps, or counseling centers. If certain facilities are exempt because of the persons they serve, why are not similar facilities not also exempt?

The administrators of these service providers are professionals whose decisions regarding how best to protect the citizens they serve should be respected, not abrogated.

We ask that House Bill 1438 be fixed to fix these fundamental flaws or be given a Do Not Pass recommendation.