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South Dakota's governor vetoes loosening of concealed carry gun laws

(Reuters) - South Dakota’s Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard on Friday vetoed a pair of bills that would have loosened restrictions on carrying concealed guns in the state, after saying current laws made sense and were adequate.

FILE PHOTO: Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota listens to remarks during a discussion at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington, February 23, 2014. EUTERS/Mike Theiler/File Photo

One measure would have allowed carrying concealed weapons in the state without a permit. The second proposed allowing carriers of an enhanced permit to carry concealed weapons at the state capitol.

South Dakota bars convicted felons and those convicted of some violent or drug crimes from obtaining a concealed weapons permit.

Eleven U.S. states allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control advocacy group. Another 39, including South Dakota, allow concealed carry with a permit.

In a letter accompanying one of the vetoes, Daugaard, who had previously pointed to his own membership in the National Rifle Association, defended the state’s existing concealed weapons laws as reasonable.

“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. By comparison, he added, two counties in the state have turned down nearly 600 permit applicants “who were disqualified due to mental illness or due to violent or drug-related crimes.”

The veto echoed statements Daugaard made in a Feb. 11 editorial in the Rapid City Journal, in which he said he viewed the state’s laws as “effective, appropriate and minimal.” Daugaard also vetoed a similar proposal loosening concealed-carry standards in 2012.

Rep. Lee Qualm, who sponsored the proposal relaxing the state capitol restrictions, called the vetoes “frustrating,” and said in a phone interview on Friday that he would try to override them when the legislature returns from recess March 27. An override requires a two-thirds majority in South Dakota, and Qualm said both bills were only a handful of votes short of that threshold in both chambers.

Rep. Lynne Disanto, sponsor of the broader of the two bills, did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment.

The bills’ failure at the hands of a Republican governor pointed to a divide in his party over the regulations. Neither bill received full Republican support in either chamber, and the statewide measure was opposed by about one in five Republicans in the House and one in three in the Senate.

Reporting by Tom James in Seattle; Editing by Patrick Enright and Richard Chang