BOISE – Idaho lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Thursday to allow guns on Idaho’s public college campuses, even though the colleges don’t want them.
The National Rifle Association-drafted bill now goes to Gov. Butch Otter, who already has said he supports it on Second Amendment grounds.
Frustrated student leaders from the state’s campuses said lawmakers dismissed opposition from all eight public university presidents, the state Board of Education, faculty senates and student associations. Petitions with more than 3,000 signatures opposing the bill were delivered to the Idaho Legislature on Wednesday.
“Who does this legislature represent?” asked Megan Greco, vice president of the Student Association of the College of Western Idaho. “The answer is clear: Lobbyists, and apparently, themselves.”
NRA lobbyist Dakota Moore presented the bill in its first Senate committee hearing instead of its sponsor, Nampa Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie.
Opponents of the bill weren’t allowed to speak at that hearing, including the chiefs of police from Boise and Moscow, home to the state’s two largest university campuses.
When the bill came up for its House committee hearing, everyone got to speak – and the testimony ran for seven hours, overwhelmingly against the bill.
Thursday’s House debate ran for an hour and a half, with more opponents than backers speaking out. But in the end, the bill passed on a 50-19 vote, with six Republicans joining the House’s 13 Democrats in opposing it.
University officials say complying with the bill will cost them millions of dollars, said Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise. “What’s the justification of this financial kneecapping of colleges?” she asked. “Just to make an abstract philosophical statement?”
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, asked Rubel, “What do you think the price of an individual’s freedom and their personal safety is? What kind of price tag would you put on that?”
Backers said the bill would let armed students or instructors defend themselves or others if someone started shooting.
The bill, SB 1254, would authorize retired law enforcement officers or anyone with Idaho’s new enhanced concealed weapons permit to carry a gun on Idaho’s public college or university campuses. Guns wouldn’t be allowed in dorms or large entertainment venues seating more than 1,000 people.
Currently, Idaho law lets public colleges and universities regulate guns on their own campuses; all ban them in most cases.
If Otter signs the bill into law, it would take effect July 1.