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Idaho campus gun law takes effect Tuesday

About 300 people gather on the Statehouse steps in Boise in February to protest the bill seeking to allow concealed weapons on the state’s college campuses. The bill eventually passed and was signed into law. (Associated Press)
About 300 people gather on the Statehouse steps in Boise in February to protest the bill seeking to allow concealed weapons on the state’s college campuses. The bill eventually passed and was signed into law. (Associated Press)
Elizabeth Rudd Lewiston Tribune

University of Idaho professor Jack Sullivan feels he has a contractual obligation to maintain a safe and nurturing classroom – that’s why he plans to put on his syllabus that no firearms, concealed or otherwise, will be permitted in his classes.

The biological sciences educator said he’s not sure if that’s legal, but it’s what he feels is right.

Sullivan isn’t opposed to guns and has never lived in a gun-free home. He grew up hunting with his family and still remembers the first firearm he purchased. But, he said, allowing guns on campus contradicts the best practices of education – something he and others have dedicated their careers to learning.

That’s the difference, he said, between the professors in classrooms and the legislators at the Statehouse who voted last session to approve the guns on campus law that goes into effect Tuesday.

The law exempts retired law enforcement officers and people who have enhanced concealed-carry permits from regulations that prohibit firearms on college and university campuses.

It came despite unanimous opposition from the presidents at the state’s institutions of higher education and the Idaho State Board of Education. As the law becomes a reality, faculty at both the UI in Moscow and Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston are left with more concerns than answers.

“I still don’t know what’s permitted with the law that’s been passed, so I don’t know what my reaction should be,” said Sullivan, who has worked at UI since 1997.

Matt Dorschel, UI public safety and security executive director, said the university does not plan to hire any more security officers or arm them in preparation for the law.

Dorschel served as head of the university task force created to provide recommendations and guidance to faculty and students on how to handle the policy changes.

Dorschel said the task force met weekly but did not believe arming security officers was a necessary action, unlike Idaho State University, which is planning to arm its security staff. He did say, however, that UI will be adding elements on how to respond to armed individuals into its training.

The university works closely with the Moscow Police Department, which has quick response times to provide aid on campus, Dorschel said. The MPD also runs the on-campus firearm storage facility, which will be relocated to the campus security office.

Despite repeated attempts, the Tribune was unable to locate anyone on either the UI or LCSC campuses who supports the new law.

LCSC chemistry professor Rachel Jameton doesn’t know how to handle two conflicting mandates she has for her laboratory, which contains organic solvents, oxidants and other flammable chemicals. She said the college is required by the state to have a chemical safety plan that keeps such materials in a secure environment.

“We keep flame away from them,” she said.

Now the state has mandated that some people can bring guns into the same environment. The laboratory operates in a manner to reduce the risk of mishaps, she said, but adding a gun into the mix runs the risk of an accidental discharge.

As of now, she plans to continue prohibiting firearms in the lab.

Stephan Flores, a UI associate professor in English, said he fears that the knowledge of an armed student in class could deter free and open communication, “which is vital to education.”

Trish Hartzell, UI faculty senate chairwoman, said the issue Flores raises, combined with living in close quarters and various hormones that go with being a young adult, can all be exacerbated by having a gun in the mix.

“I think our job as faculty is to protect students and I just don’t think we need guns on campus,” she said.

Dorschel said options that faculty are looking into, such as hanging signs outside classrooms prohibiting firearms, are a direct violation of the policy. Although he said he does not have the authority to tell employees what they can and cannot do in terms of signs, the law clearly states firearms are allowed inside classes.

Jameton said a student she once worked with had a moment of weakness in which he felt he was out of options. She was able to talk with him and resolve the situation. But, she said, what if a similar instance were to happen now at LCSC and the student involved had a gun?

Jodie Nicotra, a UI English professor, said she is concerned for the added responsibility that will be placed on graduate assistants. At UI, first-year English classes are taught by graduate students.

“So I worry that people who are teaching for the first time, in many cases, just don’t have the experience to manage this (law),” she said.

Sullivan said he also fears that if there is a shooting on campus, more guns could lead to more shots fired and more casualties. It also creates an issue for law enforcement if there are multiple shooters without an indication of the true perpetrators.

“So that’s the argument – the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Sullivan said. “The issue is too complicated for sound bites like that.”

The Moscow-Pullman Daily News contributed to this report.
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