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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho House rejects bill to keep guns away from domestic abusers

The Idaho state Capitol in Boise (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

After an emotional debate, the Idaho House on Tuesday narrowly rejected legislation to mirror federal law by barring those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence against an intimate partner from possessing guns for two years.

Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, the bill’s lead sponsor, noted that Utah passed similar legislation last year with a Republican senator sponsoring it; 28 states have done the same with bipartisan backing.

“This is one of the most dangerous situations you can find … and then you throw a gun in the mix,” Wintrow told the House. She also provided an Idaho attorney general’s opinion assuring lawmakers that the bill was constitutional. “We are saying if you’ve been convicted as a criminal, then you should not have a deadly weapon – that’s it,” she said. “We could save lives.”

Enacting a state law would allow local law enforcement officers to enforce it, Wintrow said. With only the federal law on the books, they can’t do that.

Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, said he thought the Idaho attorney general was “flat-out wrong on his analysis.”

“Statistics show if people want to have access to a gun, they will. … There’s no way for us to enforce this,” he said.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, a retired physician, said he spent 40 years in and around emergency rooms, treating women and children who were victims of domestic violence. “After 40 years of taking care of battered women and children, you tend to get a little emotional,” he said. “I’m going to be voting for this. I don’t think it has anything to do with gun control or anything else. I’m going to stand with battered women and children today, and I’d ask you to do the same thing.”

Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, said, “This is a very delicate issue. … The people have the right to keep and bear arms.”

Wintrow proposed the bill after two young Idaho women told her the story of how their father killed their mother – shot her to death, in front of one of her children, after he’d been charged with felony domestic violence but pleaded it down to a misdemeanor. Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue, who handled the case, joined Wintrow and the Idaho Sheriffs Association in pressing for the bill.

“People who beat their wives and girlfriends and threaten them with dangerous weapons shouldn’t have them,” Wintrow told the House. “This is a helpful tool for law enforcement to keep them safe.”

The Idaho Freedom Foundation lobbying group had pushed hard against the bill, with President Wayne Hoffman warning in a column earlier this week, “The gun grabbers are coming!”

In a statement after the vote, Wintrow said, “This was a heart-breaking vote for the hundreds of domestic violence victims all over Idaho who live in fear every day. This common-sense legislation would have given them some much-needed hope and security.”

The bill died on a 31-39 vote.