Eye On Boise

Otter scuttled last guns-on-campus push

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter scuttled the last push to permit guns on Idaho college and university campuses in 2008, the Associated Press reports. "He had concerns then, I believe he has concerns now," said Sen. Curt McKenzie, a Nampa Republican behind the 2008 effort to allow concealed weapons on campuses. Click below for the full story from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

Idaho lawmakers revive guns-on-campus push
By JESSIE L. BONNER,Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers who have revived a push to allow firearms on Idaho's college campuses may have engaged in a game of "ready, fire, aim" by not clearing it with the governor first.

The governor's opposition three years ago helped torpedo a nearly identical bill.

"He had concerns then, I believe he has concerns now," said Sen. Curt McKenzie, a Nampa Republican behind the 2008 effort to allow concealed weapons on campuses.

McKenzie's legislation three years ago was designed to curtail attempts by cities and counties to regulate guns in public places. The bill passed, but a provision to strip college presidents of the authority to ban concealed weapons on campus was scrapped under pressure from university administrators and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.

McKenzie argued then that his proposal was designed to clarify what the Idaho Constitution already allowed.

This year, Idaho lawmakers have resurrected the guns-on-campus debate with legislation to prohibit Idaho's universities from banning firearms everywhere on campus except in undergraduate residence halls. Guns would be allowed at athletic events.

McKenzie chairs the Senate State Affairs Committee, which will serve as the next battleground for the measure after it passed the Idaho House on Wednesday.

"I do intend to hold a hearing," McKenzie said.

Supporters contend the measure will boost safety at the schools because letting students and faculty carry guns heightens the chances they could help prevent a violent crime.

Texas lawmakers are considering similar legislation this year to allow guns on campus, adding momentum to a national campaign to open colleges and universities to firearms. Utah is the only state to pass such a broad-based law, while Colorado gives colleges the option, and several have allowed handguns.

Idaho law now gives universities authority to prohibit firearms. Boise State University, Idaho State University, the University of Idaho, Lewis-Clark State College and community colleges have adopted their own gun ban policies.

While the schools have testified against this year's legislation to allow firearms on campus, the governor has yet to publicly weigh in.

Spokesman Jon Hanian confirmed Otter met with the bill's sponsors.

"He wanted to know their reasons for bringing the legislation," said Hanian, who declined to give specifics on the meeting, as did lawmakers.

But since legislation has to clear the governor before becoming law, it doesn't exactly bode well for the bill if Otter's 2008 concerns linger.

Idaho Falls Republican Rep. Erik Simpson introduced the measure in the Idaho House two weeks ago. Simpson, who was not part of the 2008 Legislature, said he didn't know the specifics of the legislation three years ago.

"Boy, I wish I had been here then, it would have been nice to have that context of what happened a few years ago. It might have helped more or less in my preparation," Simpson said. "I knew this had been attempted in the past and, as far as my bill was concerned, I felt like I had a legitimate compromise."

The compromise is it allows the schools to maintain gun bans in undergraduate dorms, Simpson said.

The debate has inspired the passions from lawmakers on both sides.

Supporters argue campus gun violence, such as the 2007 mass shootings at Virginia Tech, show the best defense against a gunman is students who can shoot back in defense.

But opponents contend it will only accelerate conflict and leave students and faculty in fear, not knowing who might pull a gun over a poor grade, a broken romance, a drunken fraternity argument or an altercation at a football game.

"One can only imagine a college classroom or a campus administrative situation where heated arguments about strongly held political beliefs or disputes about grades or even parking issues result in the use of a concealed weapon." said Rep. Cherie Buckner-Webb, a Boise Democrat.

Another lawmaker talked about a letter she had received opposing the Idaho legislation from Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily Haas was injured in the Virginia Tech shootings.

But a supporter of the bill, Republican Rep. Phil Hart of Athol, recounted a dramatic story of a woman at the University of Utah hospital who gotten a restraining order against a man she had previously been involved with. The woman contemplated buying a gun to protect herself from the man, but ultimately decided to carry a whistle, Hart said.

"Shortly thereafter, he met her in the parking lot of the University of Utah hospital and he killed her," Hart said.

Where some lawmakers provided cautionary tells, others said it boiled down to the Second Amendment.

Majority Caucus Chair Ken Roberts, a Republican from Donnelly, said the legislation was about "protecting the very rights that made America free from the beginning."

"I want to live in a country and in a state where the citizens are armed," Roberts said during debate on the House floor. "It's one of the basic facts that keeps America safer today than any other nation in the world, it's because the citizens are armed. Behind every blade of grass and over every hill there's a citizen that has their own weapon to protect themselves."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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