February 4, 2014 in Opinion

Editorial: Idaho’s guns-on-campus bill a solution in search of a problem


The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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On issue after issue, self-described small-government conservatives tout local control that puts decision-making in the hands of those closest to the problems. But when one party rules a state, the urge for supremacy is sometimes uncontrollable.

And so it is with the Idaho Legislature, which keeps introducing bills that would allow guns on campuses, where college presidents do not allow them. Law enforcement officials think it’s a bad idea, too.

But being pro-gun is good politics in the Gem State, so another measure, Senate Bill 1254, has been introduced.

It would allow retired law enforcement officers and carriers of concealed-weapon permits to bring guns on campus. Dorms and entertainment facilities would still be off-limits. A similar bill failed in 2011. Circumstances haven’t changed.

The bill’s aim is explicit: “It is the legislature’s intent to wholly occupy the field of firearms regulation within this state.” The bill states this is necessary to uphold the right to bear arms provided by the U.S. and Idaho constitutions.

This Occupy movement can’t identity a problem, so it creates one.

In reality, there is no ongoing violation of the Second Amendment or state constitution on college campuses, and there’s no evidence of a problem in need of this solution. Quite simply, this is legislative overreach.

In imposing a ban on weapons at residence halls and entertainment venues, the bill’s authors concede there are places where firearms are inappropriate. So this is really a battle over what makes sense for public safety, and campus leaders – those closest to the issue – say this bill misses the mark.

On Monday, the presidents of all eight on the state’s public colleges and universities spoke out strongly against SB 1254. They were joined by state Board of Education officials, who convened a meeting on Monday morning and voted unanimously against the bill.

As Boise State University President Bob Kustra said, “There is no current problem or crisis to address on our state’s campuses that would be solved by this legislation.” North Idaho College President Joe Dunlap said the bill was “a litmus test for local control.”

Local control is something conservatives normally support. Passing feel-good laws is something they normally oppose.

Law enforcement experts say adding more guns to a campus shooting would complicate the response of police officers, who would first have to discern the armed good guys from the armed bad guys. Plus, there’s the specter of adding firearms to the mix of binge-drinking, fighting and general risk-taking endemic among young adults away from home for the first time.

Those closest to these issues say SB 1254, and laws like it, are a bad idea. There’s no good reason for distant lawmakers to strong-arm them.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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