A bill to allow students, staff and visitors to carry guns on Idaho's college campuses passed out of a legislative committee Friday afternoon, despite objections from students, multiple police chiefs and leaders of all eight of the state's public colleges.
The measure would allow retired law enforcement officers and those with Idaho's new enhanced concealed carry permit to bring their firearms onto campus. Concealed weapons would still be barred from dormitories, stadiums and concert halls.
The 11-3 party-line vote sends the issue forward to debate on the House floor. The bill passed the Senate earlier this month.
Bryan Lovell, president of the Fraternal Order of Police and a Bonneville Sherriff's deputy, said people should have the right to defend themselves, even on a college campus.
"There are a lot of concealed weapons permit holders out there, and the reason they get that is because they want to protect themselves," Lovell said. "They don't want to be caught in a fishbowl if there's an active shooter."
If the measure becomes law, Idaho would join six other states with provisions — either from lawmakers or dictated by court decisions — that allow concealed carry on campus: Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Utah is the only state with a specific law that forbids universities from banning concealed carry at any of its 10 public institutions.
Those who testified Friday before the House State Affairs Committee were overwhelmingly in opposition to the bill, as were protesters who gathered on the Capitol steps during a Thursday rally.
But Kelby Monks, a Boise State student and son of committee member Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, told the committee that carrying a weapon in a classroom could stop a would-be mass shooter quickly — even while police were still minutes away.
"It does not take more than 30 seconds to empty out an entire clip," he said, adding that concerns about law enforcement confusing good Samaritans with criminal shooters during a crisis situation are overblown. "I'd rather die and be shot by a police officer than have an entire auditorium of my classmates killed," he said.
But some university heads worry a loophole in the bill will allow students with the concealed carry permit to openly carry firearms anywhere — even in places ruled off-limits by the bill.
That might not be the proponents' intention, said State Board of Education member Rod Lewis, a lawyer, but he believes the bill will likely be interpreted by judges as allowing open carry on campus. Such situations could make it impossible to differentiate whether someone walking across the campus quad with an assault rifle is a criminal shooter — or simply heading to class.
Not everybody arrived at Lewis' conclusion.
For instance, Idaho's Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the committee that he doesn't believe the bill would bar colleges from banning open carry, even as concealed carry is allowed.
Boise State president Bob Kustra said lawmakers were ignoring the objections of those who would be most affected by the legislation: people on his and seven other public college and university campuses across the state.
"I'm very uncomfortable with the thought of our campus and others in Idaho being the testing grounds and our students, faculty and visitors the unwilling participants in an experiment with an unpredictable outcome."
John Gannon, one of three Democrats on the committee who voted against the bill, said he opposed ramming legislation through before such major questions had been settled. He also disagreed with passing a bill those affected had turned out in droves to speak against.
But majority Republicans including Rep. Ken Andrus, of Lava Hot Springs, won out with arguments including that the measure would allow people on campus to protect themselves against violent crimes. If people even suspect somebody on campus is carrying a weapon, Republicans said, they'll be less likely engage in violent conduct.
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