BOISE – The Idaho Senate has voted 25-10 in favor of legislation to allow guns on the state’s public college and university campuses, over the objections of all of its state college presidents and unanimous opposition from the state Board of Education.
The bill, SB 1254, now moves to the House, where it’s expected to pass; GOP Gov. Butch Otter already has indicated he supports it on Second Amendment grounds.
Just three Republicans joined the Senate’s seven Democrats in opposing the bill; all were from North Idaho.
“I’m really conflicted with this,” said Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene. “I am in favor of local control, but I also respect the Second Amendment.” He noted that a despondent North Idaho College student was recently arrested on campus with a gun and 70 hollow-point rounds of ammunition. “We were just lucky that we didn’t have a problem,” he said.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, noted that the section of code being amended was actually written in 2008 by some of the same lawmakers backing this year’s bill, including Sens. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, and Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. “I supported the bill that the same sponsors brought to us in ‘08 that gave the colleges and universities the responsibility of governing this on campus,” Keough said. “I believe, as a Republican, in local control. … I listened to law enforcement in my district, which was split about evenly.
“At the end of the day, I believe it was an unnecessary bill that creates a patchwork of gun zones on college campuses that I believe will potentially make it harder for law enforcement, for students and staff, and for the public to know where you can carry and where you can’t carry.”
Keough said she found it “distressing that the same people who brought this policy to us now are clothing themselves in the 2nd Amendment to take it away.”
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, raised a number of concerns about the bill, including that it would permit some college students to carry guns, but not his 19-year-old son, a combat military veteran. The bill only allows those 21 or older to carry on campus. Also, he said Lewis-Clark State College, in his district, told him its gun policies apply to students, not to faculty and staff - meaning the bill would actually restrict faculty gun rights. “We take these rights away from people that we’ve already given them in the past,” Johnson said.
McKenzie, the bill’s lead sponsor, told the Senate, “The end result of this is that qualifying faculty or students at our universities will no longer be prevented from exercising a fundamental right to self-defense and constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”
The bill lets either retired law enforcement officers or anyone with Idaho’s new enhanced concealed weapons permit, which requires people to be 21 or older and go through an eight-hour training course including live fire, carry concealed guns on Idaho college campuses. They wouldn’t be allowed, however, in dormitories or indoor venues that seat more than 1,000.
McKenzie said the university officials’ objections should carry some weight with lawmakers. But, he said, “What should carry more weight with us is the individual liberty right of Idaho citizens, and I think this promotes that in a careful way.”
Police chiefs from around the state, including those from Moscow, where the University of Idaho is located, and Boise, site of Boise State University’s campus, opposed the bill, but were blocked from testifying at an earlier committee hearing on the measure, when McKenzie didn’t call them to speak. Students objecting to the bill also weren’t called on to testify. McKenzie deferred to National Rifle Association lobbyist Dakota Moore to present the bill; Moore had the floor for 40 minutes of the three-hour hearing.
Hagedorn told the Senate, “I am my first responder. I would much rather … protect myself.” He noted that he has training and knows how to use and store his firearms, and said he was grateful for that in an incident last year in which a drunken intruder used his hot tub and tried to enter his house, before Hagedorn held him at gunpoint until police arrived.
People with concealed weapons permits create “this unknown deterrent that continuously walks around,” Hagedorn said, “where bad guys don’t know who’s armed, who’s not armed. Bad guys don’t know who to attack or who not to attack – except they know on campus, that’s a gun-free zone. … If I were a bad guy, I think that’s where I would go.”