PIERRE (AP) – Members of South Dakota's Legislature this year may be carrying concealed weapons at the Statehouse for the first time.
The session that began Tuesday is the first since a law was passed last year to allow concealed-carry at the Statehouse for people who have an advanced permit and who notify the state highway patrol, which provides security at the Capitol.
Sen. Jim Stalzer, a Republican from Sioux Falls, sponsored the initiative last year and said he felt it gave lawmakers and state government employees a chance to defend themselves if someone attacks. Guns are allowed in other state government buildings, but had been prohibited at the Capitol because it also houses the Supreme Court – and guns aren't allowed at courthouses in the state. The courtroom has a separate security screening and will still be off limits to guns.
Some Democrats said they did not want any guns in the building unless they were being carried by security.
“I think it makes people more edgy than it does calm,” said Rep. Steven McCleerey, a Democrat from Sisseton.
Several lawmakers approached by The Associated Press and asked whether they were carrying guns declined to say. They said doing so could make them targets in the event of a shooting.
Rep. Dayle Hammock, a Republican from Spearfish, estimated that six to 10 legislators would be carrying guns on the first day of the session.
Hammock is a former law enforcement officer and firearm instructor. He said many legislators were interested in taking a gun safety class that he is planning for later in the week. He wants to teach people how to carry safely.
“We do not want a gun hitting the floor whether it goes off or not," Hammock said.
To get an advanced concealed carry permit in South Dakota, people have to complete a course and register with their county sheriff.
Security at the Capitol has been increased this year to add metal detectors and X-ray machines. Department of Public Safety spokesman Tony Mangan said that change had nothing to do with the concealed-carry change.