BOISE - Idaho would forbid its colleges and universities from banning guns on campus - including at football games - under legislation now pending in a House committee.
“The right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution,” Rep. Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls, told the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday. “I believe that the Legislature never intended for universities and colleges to institute firearms bans.”
Under current Idaho law, colleges and universities can decide on their own how to regulate firearms; most ban them, except for law enforcement officers. Simpson’s bill, HB 222, would remove that authority from colleges and universities except for undergraduate dormitories, where guns still could be banned.
The bill drew opposition Wednesday from law enforcement and university officials, and prompted this comment from Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, who said he attends all the home basketball and football games at Boise State University: “I don’t want to sit next to someone that’s carrying a gun.”
Simpson responded, “I’ll tell you, you sit next to people who carry guns in restaurants now. You shop in supermarkets where people carry weapons. How is sitting next to someone at a football game different? … Concealed weapons holders are very responsible people.”
But Simpson’s bill doesn’t apply only to holders of concealed weapon permits - it would let anyone openly carry a gun on campus, anywhere except an undergrad residence hall.
“The Constitution allows open carry in the state of Idaho,” Simpson said. “So if somebody has issues with that, they probably need to look at amending the Constitution.”
Bilbao responded that he has a concealed weapons permit and he sometimes carries a pistol - but he never takes it to athletic competitions. At college games, Bilbao said, “There has always been some kind of an altercation. The Boise Police have done an excellent job. … These altercations, when they do occur, get into fisticuffs, and it does take two policemen to spread them. And if one guy has a gun, I can assure you that they’ll probably pull the gun out.”
Eight years ago next Tuesday, the 23-year-old son of a state senator was shot to death at a keg party at Boise State University, after the young man reportedly threw beer on another party-goer, a 21-year-old fellow student. That student responded by pulling a handgun and shooting Cameron Wade Davis, son of Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls.
Simpson said he was aware of the incident and spoke with Davis before proposing the bill, “out of respect.” Simpson called the 2003 shooting “an absolute tragedy” and “an isolated incident.”
Davis said he was “flattered” that Simpson checked with him. “I certainly didn’t pledge my support for the legislation, but I certainly understood,” he said.
Boise Police Department Lt. Tony Plott told the lawmakers his department opposes the bill. He said he’s a lifetime NRA member, the father of three college-age daughters, and a second-generation law enforcement officer. “Conduct that most adults feel is risky, young adults feel is pretty fun,” Plott said. “As a campus police agency, we feel strongly that adding weapons to this mix will mean our college students are less safe.”
Al Baker, a second-year University of Idaho law student and director of Students for Concealed Carry, spoke in favor of the bill. He said he believes it’s unconstitutional for universities to regulate firearms possession. “The policies are naive and they’re intellectually dishonest,” Baker said. “They’re only effective against law-abiding people … and they don’t stop people that want to do the wrong thing.” He said, “This really changes not who carries, but simply where they carry.”
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, an attorney, questioned Baker’s constitutional argument, noting provisions of the Idaho Constitution and state law, but Baker disagreed. “They can’t contravene that basic right to self-defense,” he said.
Another UI law student, Aaron Tribble, sued the university in January because he’s not allowed to store guns at his on-campus graduate student housing; the suit is pending in district court in Latah County.
Oddly, one employee of the University of Idaho, Don Lazzarini, testified in favor of the bill Wednesday, while another, Marty Peterson, assistant to the UI president, told the committee, “I just want make the record very clear. The gentleman that just testified was on his own, was not testifying on behalf of the university. The University of Idaho is opposed to HB 222.”
Lazzarini, a peer and professional speaker and trainer in the UI’s violence prevention office and a former California police officer who said female students need guns to defend themselves against assailants, got into a back-and-forth debate with Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Garden City, who noted her diminutive frame and asked him, “By the time I could get the gun out, somebody could overpower me, take the gun and shoot me. I don’t know about you, but I would rather be assaulted than dead. … Could you tell me your opinion, if you really, really, truly believe that they would be safer?”
Lazzarini responded, “A woman has a right to select that, as an individual if the choice is there and you would rather be raped than deal with the concept of a person attacking you. What we have right now is our women are not armed on campus.”
The committee didn’t vote on the bill Wednesday because it ran out of time with more people left to testify; the hearing will continue Thursday morning.