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Committee approves public school gun bill, law enforcement calls it ‘bad for Idaho children’

UPDATED: Wed., March 10, 2021

By Sally Krutzig Idaho Falls Post Register Idaho Falls Post Register

BOISE – The House State Affairs Committee voted 11-2 along party lines to approve Rep. Chad Christensen’s latest bill to allow employees of a public school district “with an enhanced concealed weapons license to carry a concealed weapon on school property.” The favorable vote on Tuesday came despite strong opposition from both law enforcement and school boards.

Under HB 122 school employees carrying weapons would need to keep them “concealed and within their immediate control.” Carrying weapons would be optional; employees could not be required to carry or use a weapon. The only way an employee could face repercussions for carrying a weapon would be by displaying “reckless, willful and wanton behavior.”

Christensen noted the average police response time is 10 minutes. Too slow, he said, in a school shooting situation.

“I believe an armed staff member … would find that bad guy somewhere in the school and put a stop to it. That’s worth the risk for me, for any of these ‘what if’ situations,” Christensen, R-Iona, said.

Parents on both sides of the issue testified. One said she would feel safer for her children and grandchildren if this bill passed. Another said she would likely pull her children out of public school if it did.

The Idaho Sheriffs Association and Idaho Chiefs of Police Association wrote a letter, and sent a representative to testify, against the bill. The letter was handed out to the committee.The associations believe it is harmful to have a one-size-fits-all school concealed weapon law. Local school boards should be able to set their own policies on this issue, the association said.

Karen Echeverria, testifying on behalf of the Idaho School Boards Association, agreed. She said school boards have the ability to allow firearms on school property and argued control should remain local.

“Like any business or government entity, we have employees who are in crisis, who have substance abuse issues or who have domestic relations problems, all of which could create a situation of instability. And there is no method in this bill where a school can prohibit weapons possession by such an individual,” Echeverria said.

Law enforcement had three main concerns. The first was for an officer walking into a school shooting it is “confusing enough without having an armed civilian with minimal training carrying a gun.” In February, an Idaho Falls officer killed an armed homeowner in his yard after mistaking him for a person who just fled from police.

“It’s important to remember that law enforcement reacts quickly under critical circumstances and if responding to a school shooting, they see a person holding a gun, dire consequences could result,” the letter stated.

The second concern was a civilian with minimal training could hit children instead of an assailant. Jeff Lavey, executive director of the Idaho Sheriffs Association, said it is not uncommon for officers with 1,000 hours of training to miss a target during a stressful situation.

The association also said it is more likely for an armed school employee to accidentally fire their gun than for a criminal school shooting to occur.

“Sheriffs and Police Chiefs oppose House Bill 0122 because we believe it is a bridge too far, bad for Idaho, and bad for Idaho children,” stated the letter.

Multiple people who testified rattled off incidents of school employees accidentally discharging their guns. Christensen argued Utah, which allows school staff to carry weapons, hasn’t had an accidental shooting in 25 years. However, later Christensen admitted he was mistaken when a 2014 incident was brought up. A Utah elementary teacher accidentally shot herself in the leg while using the restroom.

Under the bill, employees would not be required to disclose the carrying of a firearm or weapon to anyone other than the school’s principal, superintendent and law enforcement.

HB 122 would only apply to public schools. It would also ban public schools from displaying signs “indicating that school property is a gun-free zone.” However, the bill states that nothing could limit a private school from setting its own rules.

The bill now goes to the House for a full vote.

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