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Excerpts from recent North Dakota editorials

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The Bismarck Tribune. Jan. 22, 2013

Gun violence requires sensible response

North Dakota has a well-developed, traditional gun culture based on hunting and protecting a family's home and property. It involves gun education and safety classes for hunters. More thorough background checks and bans on high-capacity clips, as proposed by President Barack Obama, will not significantly change gun use in North Dakota. Nor will these proposals make communities safe from mass shootings such as the one in Newtown, Conn.

Much of what's been proposed by the president will give people, at best, a false sense of security.

The most promising element of the president's gun control response is the push for more research into mass killings and other health-related aspects of gun use. If the country understands the root causes of horrific gun violence, then it might be possible to address that cause rather than treat the symptoms, as has been proposed. Better solutions might be found in mental health policies or the prescription and use of anti-depressants — we do not know because we haven't done the research.

No one condones the shooting deaths in Newtown, Conn., or New Town, N.D.

But such tragedy requires a sensible, effective response and not feel-good measures that call upon people to compromise what they believe to be their constitutional rights.

Nor will putting armed security people in schools, as has been suggested by the National Rifle Association, give blanket protection for students and teachers.

Mutually assured destruction worked to keep a Cold War balance between the United States and the Soviet Union, but arming citizens everywhere with the expectation that they might respond to the next mass shooter begs for more violence, not less.

North Dakotans understand guns pretty well. They can differentiate between guns for hunting or defense of one's home, shotguns and hunting rifles, and the weapons of aggression and war, the domestic descendants of the M-16 and AK-47, semi-automatic and automatic weapons.

Most of the state's citizens see little need for knockoffs of military rifles, but they understand clearly their right to "bear arms" under the Second Amendment.

Gun control isn't a yes-or-no issue. We ban automatic weapons. We have regulations and permits for concealed weapons. Some places have gun free zones, usually schools and hospitals.

Gun control — that "well-regulated militia" — should come as a balance of safety, responsible action and the right to protect yourself, at all costs.

It represents a social and political balance.

That balance would be easier to discover if we knew more about the cause.

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The Forum of Fargo. Jan. 21, 2013

A great proposal for a park

At first glance, a bill in the North Dakota House that would repurpose a 900-acre tract of state land near the Missouri River south of Bismarck looks like the same ol' sleight of hand that was tried in two previous legislative sessions. But the bill filed recently by Rep. Alon Wieland, R-West Fargo, appears to be no such thing.

House Bill 1312 aims to move the Missouri River Correctional Center (commonly known as the state farm) from land near the river to a site on the State Penitentiary grounds in Bismarck. The river tract would be transformed into a recreation area and nature preserve with (and here's the difference from previous proposals) no private or commercial development.

In other words, a truly spectacular stretch of river bottomland a short drive from downtown Bismarck would be protected from development and accessible to the public. And it's not just any chunk of ground. In addition to open acres that are managed for hay and other crops, the tract features 9,000 feet of shoreline and an old-growth riverine forest of cottonwood, willow, ash and other trees. It is habitat for all manner of wild animals, from deer and beaver to songbirds and eagles. It's a beautiful place in every season of the year. Preserving in its natural state for public use is a great idea.

The rub? The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is not sold on the plan. Director Leann Bertsch said the timing is not right to move the 150 male inmates at MRCC to the main prison site. She apparently thinks the new site would be less secure and might lead to crowding at the prison. Maybe so.

Wieland's legislation (co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Carlisle, R-Bismarck) does not necessarily have to impose a timetable to spend the $12 million that would be needed to finance the move. But the process can begin while the corrections people adjust to accommodate the move.

In previous attempts to move MRCC off the river tract, it was suspected that real estate and development interests were lusting after the prime land for housing and commercial lots. They likely were. Objections to selling the land to private developers scuttled early proposals.

The current legislation includes the provision to keep the land in state ownership for a recreation and nature area. If it all comes together, generations of North Dakotans will enjoy a beautiful park, thanks to the 2013 Legislature.

But first the people at corrections, Game & Fish, and Parks & Recreation have to get off their duffs and develop a cooperative strategy aimed at getting it done, not merely whining that it can't be done.

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Grand Forks Herald. Jan. 17, 2013

The best med-school value for N.D.

When buying a car or a tractor, as North Dakotans know, the cheapest is not always the best. It's usually worth spending more to get the most reliable model.

After all, not only will the repair bills be less over the years, but also the unit will spend less time in the shop; and that means it'll spend more time in the field or on the road. The machine's resale value will be higher, too.

Clearly, being "penny wise" can result in a purchase that's "pound foolish," if a buyer chooses a cheaper tool that winds up costing more.

And that's the idea North Dakota lawmakers who are considering the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences' expansion request should keep in mind.

Option 3 — the choice to construct an entirely new, $124 million building to house the school's many programs — is the most expensive in the lineup. It's not quite double the governor's preferred option, a $68 million plan that would add on to the school's existing 60-year-old structure. And it's just over three times the $38.3 million cost of Option 1.

But "in an effort to figure out which alternative was best, the school had an outside firm do a 40-year analysis on all three proposals," the Williston (N.D.) Herald reported.

"The firm's work showed that a new building, while it would cost more initially, would actually have the lowest cost over 40 years.

"The findings showed reduced maintenance on a new building as well as additional reimbursement by the federal government on increased research projects."

That's the bottom-line conclusion that lawmakers should examine most carefully. And if it holds up, then Option 3 is the smart decision for the state.

Of course, when buying a vehicle (or anything else), the cost over time isn't the only consideration. For example, if you know you should get the most reliable model, but you don't have enough money to do so — well, that's that. You get the model you can afford.

But the beauty and good fortune of North Dakota's situation is that the state can afford the most-expensive now, least-expensive option over time.

Building a new building would not be an extravagant decision, in other words. It would be a wise decision, one in keeping with North Dakotans' conception of value, as long as the state has the resources to do the job. And North Dakota does.

Yes, it's true that Grand Forks would benefit from the construction of the school's new home. A state-of-the-art facility would draw scientists from far and wide and greatly strengthen UND.

But remember: Eighty percent of the medical students at the school are from North Dakota. Many of them are from North Dakota's small towns.

More than half of the primary-care physicians in the state graduated from the school, not to mention high numbers of North Dakota's physical therapists, physician assistants and other allied-health professionals.

In other words, what's good for the School of Medicine is good for North Dakota — and in very direct ways. When North Dakota's health care students train in a first-class facility, North Dakota's cities and towns see first-rate clinicians come home to set up shop.

That's the promise, and it's one the School of Medicine and Health Sciences ably fulfills.

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