This story first appeared Thursday in the Post Falls/Rathdrum edition of Your Voice.
POST FALLS – Zach Doty typically wears a tie and dress shirt to church. But lately a new accessory of his is raising alarm.
After turning 18 last month, the Post Falls teenager began strapping a loaded 9 mm Glock 19 pistol to his belt every day. He totes it in full view to Bible studies, the public library, city parks and neighborhood stores, and on walks around town.
His 15-year-old brother, Stephen, has joined him, carrying a loaded Ruger .22-caliber rifle slung over his shoulder.
The brothers, who are home-schooled, say they’re flexing their Second Amendment right, which allows citizens to bear arms. They say they’re protecting themselves and others, deterring crime and making a statement about constitutional freedoms.
“If you don’t exercise a right, eventually it will go away,” Zach Doty said last week, a handgun tucked in a holster on his hip. “I’d like to raise people’s awareness that it’s a right, and I hope to encourage others to exercise that right.”
The brothers are stirring up concern about citizen safety and gun responsibility.
Residents have alerted police and complained to the city. Police have stopped the boys on several occasions in the past six weeks.
And city officials say the brothers’ action may lead to restrictions on carrying weapons on public property within city limits. At this time, the city doesn’t have an ordinance prohibiting firearms in most public buildings.
“It obviously has created some controversy in the community. … We are fielding a significant number of calls from concerned citizens about how we’re going to react to this and how we’re going to ensure their safety is upheld,” Post Falls City Administrator Eric Keck said. Idaho law generally allows people 18 or older to carry a handgun in plain view, Post Falls Police Chief Cliff Hayes said. Those age 13 to 17 can openly carry a rifle with permission from a parent or guardian. Adults can apply for a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Firing a gun is unlawful within city limits, and guns are prohibited on school grounds.
The teens are legally carrying the guns; Zach is 18 and Stephen carries a note from his parents along with his Ruger, Hayes said.
“I’ve been chief here for over 19 years, and we’ve never had anyone elect to exercise their rights this way,” Hayes said.
The public and law enforcement will need to grow accustomed to the sight, Hayes said.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to overreact to two individuals who elect to exercise their right to carry a firearm,” he said.
The Police Department has fielded calls from concerned residents, and Hayes encouraged anyone with worries to notify police.
Officers first stopped Zach Doty on April 17 in response to a 911 call, when he was walking on Idaho Street to a Bible study at his church.
Zach Doty doesn’t carry picture identification – he doesn’t have a driver’s license – so his mother brought a medical card to prove his age, according to a Post Falls police incident report.
Zach and Stephen Doty were stopped May 13 on Poleline Avenue in response to a citizen complaint.
And on May 17, a Kootenai County sheriff’s deputy approached the brothers as they hiked around Tubbs Hill in Coeur d’Alene. In the deputy’s report, he records that “several people were pointing at them.”
The brothers gave the deputy Zach’s birth certificate, a note from their parents and a copy of the Idaho Code regarding weapons carried by minors, according to the report.
In Post Falls, Hayes has distributed Zach Doty’s photograph to officers, so they’re easily able to identify him, Hayes said.
“You have to be really careful,” Hayes said, “because they’re exercising their legal right.”
Meet Zach and Stephen Doty, and they’ll give you a firm handshake and politely open doors. They wear collared shirts buttoned snuggly at the top and tucked into slim-legged pants.
Both have handled guns from an early age, hunting rabbits and deer. Both have taken a hunter’s safety course in Washington, they said.
Zach Doty, who has short-cropped hair and a fuzzy mustache and goatee, talks earnestly about gun regulations and routinely sprinkles his arguments with quotes, including, “An armed society is a polite society.”
“I understand there’s going to be a certain number of people … uncomfortable with my exercising the Second Amendment,” he said. “That’s why it’s put down as a right. There’s no right in there to not be offended.”
He may start an open-carry group to bring more attention to the cause, Zach Doty said.
“The problem is if we go another 20 years, it won’t be just offensive, it will be illegal,” Zach Doty said. “If I get enough people to do it with me, it won’t be so out of the ordinary.”
The brothers have the support of their father, Jude Doty, who has a history of bucking the establishment. Jude and Angela Doty, who have seven children ages 3 to 18, moved to Idaho two years ago during a legal battle with Washington state concerning alleged violations of child labor laws.
The family shares a philosophy: “Home birth, home school, home business.”
The Washington Department of Labor and Industries cited Jude Doty for allowing Zach and Stephen, 13 and 11 at the time, to work on construction sites. State fines eventually cost Doty, a house mover, his residence in Yakima.
Jude Doty, 50, supports his sons, although he regrets making others in the community uncomfortable.
“The boys haven’t caused any trouble,” he said. “People’s thinking needs to be changed.”
Stephen Doty, a quiet boy with a spattering of freckles across his nose, said he and his brother have received some positive responses.
“One guy gave me a thumbs-up and said, ‘That’s the way to do it,’ ” Stephen Doty said. “It’s legal, so I carry it. … I think people need to see people with guns. It’s not a bad thing.”
Others in the community worry about safety – of residents and the Doty boys. Some say the teens are digging into a sensitive issue, in light of recent shootings at Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed by a student, and more recently in Moscow, Idaho, where a gunman killed his wife, a police officer and a church sexton before killing himself.
Robert Hunt, of Post Falls, worries that teenagers don’t have the experience or mentality to safely deal with a confrontation.
“To let a 15-year-old and 18-year-old walk around with guns, it’s a potential disaster,” said Hunt, 61, a former state commander of American Disabled Veterans. “They’ll probably do more to damage gun rights by walking around with a gun.”
He was upset about the pair carrying firearms last week at the Post Falls Public Library, where children were present.
Library staff received complaints from patrons, said assistant director Rebecca Melton. .
The library doesn’t have a policy governing firearms, but the library board plans to address it in June, Melton said.
Mayor Clay Larkin said last week he doesn’t know if the city will address the issue.
“I’m confident that our public is safe at this point in time,” Larkin said. “And we will do everything we can to protect them and will give them a safe environment to live in and we will watch this as closely as the law lets us.”