Article I, § 1 of the North Dakota Constitution states that all individuals have certain “inalienable rights,” and includes among them the right “to keep and bear arms for the defense of their person, family, property, and the state, and for lawful hunting, recreational, and other lawful purposes, which shall not be infringed.”1 This provision was added to the state constitution in 1984 by an “initiated amendment.”

There is not much case law interpreting article I, § 1.  In the 1987 case State v. Ricehill.2, the defendant was convicted under a state law prohibiting the possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He challenged the conviction, arguing, among other things, that the statute violated his state constitutional right to “keep and bear arms.” The Supreme Court of North Dakota rejected the argument that the phrase “shall not be infringed” should be interpreted as precluding the Legislature from placing any limits on the possession of arms, stating:

We disagree with such a broad reading of the provision. Instead, we believe our Constitution’s protection of the right to keep and bear arms is not absolute; although it prevents the negation of the right to keep and bear arms, that right nevertheless remains subject to reasonable regulation under the State’s police power.3

The court went on to find the challenged law to be “patently reasonable” and thus within the legitimate scope of the state’s police power.4

In 1998, the same court ordered that an application for a concealed weapon license must be approved, by the sheriff, “within a reasonable time, unless the applicant has objectively failed the ‘testing procedure’ specified [by statute].”5 North Dakota law enumerates the two conditions which must be met, after which the sheriff must approve an application: 1) a background check, and 2) attendance at a testing procedure.6 While noting the ruling in Ricehill that the right to keep and bear arms “remains subject to reasonable regulation under the State’s police power,”7 the Kasprowicz court nevertheless concluded that “the legislature did not intend to give sheriffs discretionary authority to deny licenses.”8

Notes
  1. N.D. Const. Art. I, § 1. ⤴︎
  2. 415 N.W.2d 481 (1987). ⤴︎
  3. Id. at 483. ⤴︎
  4. Id. at 483-84. ⤴︎
  5. Kasprowicz v. Finck, 574 N.W.2d 564, 568 (N.D. 1998). ⤴︎
  6. N.D.C.C. § 62.1-04-03(1)(c). ⤴︎
  7. 574 N.W.2d at 566 (quoting Ricehill, 415 N.W.2d 481). ⤴︎
  8. 574 N.W.2d at 567. ⤴︎