South Dakota Governor, a Republican and NRA Member, Vetoes Bills to Relax Gun Rules

by | March 20, 2017

By Matt Pearce

It's not something you see every day: a Republican governor in a Republican-dominated state vetoing a Republican-backed gun bill.

That's what happened in South Dakota Friday, as Gov. Dennis Daugaard followed through with his threats to veto two bills that would have loosened the state's gun laws.

One bill would have allowed people to bring concealed handguns into the state Capitol. The other, the broader of the two measures, would have removed the requirement for concealed-carry permits. Neither bill passed with a large enough majority to overcome the governor's veto.

Daugaard said the state's existing concealed-permit law, which includes a $10 fee and background check, is fine as it is, and he flashed his conservative credentials to defend his decision.

In his veto letter to lawmakers, Daugaard said he was a member of the National Rifle Association. and quoted former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative firebrand, as saying that the Second Amendment right to bear arms was "not unlimited."

"I am unaware of a single instance in which a person who could lawfully possess a gun was denied a permit to carry a concealed pistol," Daugaard wrote. "Our permit laws are effective in screening people who are not eligible to carry a concealed weapon.

"Over the last three years, Minnehaha and Pennington Counties have turned down nearly 600 permit applicants who were disqualified due to mental illness or due to violent or drug-related crimes."

Daugaard's veto came as gun-rights groups and legislators across the country continue to weaken laws governing firearms. In Texas, for example, laws passed in recent years mandate fewer requirements to openly carry firearms and allow people to carry guns more broadly on college campuses. Other states have similar laws.

The concealed-carry bill pitted the NRA, which supported it, against state law-enforcement groups in opposition, including the South Dakota Sheriffs' Association., the South Dakota Police Chiefs' Association, the South Dakota State's Attorneys Association and the South Dakota Fraternal Order of Police.

"This important pro-self-defense legislation is a big step forward in allowing South Dakotans to be better able to defend themselves and their loved ones without having to obtain a government issued permit," the NRA's lobbying wing wrote this month, calling for gun owners to contact Daugaard to urge him to sign the bill.

The group said that under current law, putting on a coat while carrying a gun could mean that the wearer would need a concealed-carry permit. "This legislation gives South Dakotans the freedom to choose the best method of carrying for them, based on their attire, gender and/or physical attributes," the group wrote.

Last week, the bill's backers had delivered a stack of 2,000 letters to Daugaard's office calling for him to sign the bill. They included Republican state Rep. Lynne DiSanto, who blasted Daugaard's decision Friday.

"He has commented that he's not going to be running for higher political office, which is good cause he couldn't win DOG CATCHER anywhere in SD," DiSanto wrote in a Facebook post. "We have a super majority of Repubs in Pierre, so a veto override should be easy right? NO, because some of the 'R's' don't know what that means, choosing to raise taxes higher and take away your gun rights."

The state's Senate passed the concealed-carry bill 23 to 11, but it passed the House 37 to 30, meaning that the bill's backers can't muster the two-thirds majority required to override the veto.

The bill to allow guns in the Capitol passed the House 46 to 20, but had a closer margin in the Senate, passing 19 to 15.

Daugaard has not been afraid to use his veto power. The two gun bills were among several he vetoed Friday on a variety of issues.

In 2016, he attracted national attention for vetoing a bill that would have made South Dakota the first state in the country to require transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match the gender listed on their birth certificates. That distinction instead fell to North Carolina, whose law led to months of boycotts, protests and litigation.

"As policymakers in South Dakota, we often recite that the best government is the government closest to the people," Daugaard wrote in his veto notice last year. "Local school districts can, and have, made necessary restroom and locker room accommodations that serve the best interests of all students, regardless of biological sex or gender identity."

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