BOISE – Starting Friday, Idaho will become the eighth state in the nation to allow most residents age 21 or older to carry concealed guns without a permit – even inside cities, in bars and in most government buildings.
The new law is the latest result of decades of efforts to liberalize gun laws in Idaho, a gun-loving state that already had some of the most permissive gun laws in the nation. The state constitution bans gun licensing or registration, and open carrying of firearms is allowed even in the state Capitol.
“Out here in the West, most people have grown up with guns – they see no issue,” said Vaughn Killeen, executive director of the Idaho Sheriffs Association and the former longtime sheriff of the state’s most populous county. This year, the Sheriffs Association, which long had concerns about permitless concealed carry, backed the new law.
Killeen can remember when, as Ada County sheriff a quarter-century ago, he had issued only 15 concealed weapon licenses. Today, that number tops 30,000 in Ada County, and more than 130,000 statewide. State laws that once required people to justify to their local sheriff why they needed to carry a concealed gun changed in 1990 to require that sheriffs “shall issue” permits to anyone who qualifies. Further changes broadened exemptions for anyone engaged in hunting or other outdoor pursuits, culminating in a law passed last year that removed the requirement for concealed weapons permits for anyone 18 or older who is outside any city limits.
Then came this year’s law, which applies inside city limits, except at schools, jails and courthouses. It includes some new restrictions, applying only to Idaho residents and only those 21 or older. The new rules accompany huge and growing interest in Idaho in carrying concealed guns. Just two years ago, the state had 105,521 concealed weapon permits; that number has grown by more than 25,000 in two years.
The new law doesn’t apply to people with criminal records, drug users, fugitives, those who are mentally incapacitated, subject to domestic violence protection orders, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But unlike the current concealed weapon license law, which requires background checks to verify eligibility, it’s essentially self-policing – people are supposed to know if they aren’t allowed to carry.
“It reverses everything from how it’s handled today,” Killeen said.
Also, unlike current concealed weapon permit laws, Idahoans won’t have to prove they have training or can handle firearms in order to carry a concealed gun.
Scot Haug, Post Falls police chief and president of the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association, said his group took a neutral stand on this year’s bill.
“I’m pro-gun – I think you should be able to carry them,” Haug said. But, he said, “I’m concerned that we don’t have people with a good education about how to properly carry a weapon, how to protect it, when to use it and when not to use it.”
So his department is sponsoring classes this summer and fall. The first class was announced last week; already, more than 40 people have signed up and it’s almost full.
Haug noted the January 2015 incident in which a 2-year-old found his mother’s concealed gun in a special concealed carry purse while shopping at a Wal-Mart in Hayden, and the child shot and killed his mother. She had a concealed weapon license.
“We’ve had a couple of incidents,” Haug said. “We want to prevent those tragedies.”
Lt. Stu Miller, spokesman for the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, said interest in concealed weapon permits has been so strong in the county for the past few years that “every day we have people lined up outside the door – it’s always busy.”
That interest hasn’t waned with the approach of the new permitless carry law, he said. Idahoans still will be able to get permits; their advantages include being recognized in some other states that don’t have permitless carry laws.
“We’re so close to Washington and Montana, so in order for them to go either direction, they have to have a permit,” Miller said.