Idaho lawmakers prepping for firearms debate

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho lawmakers are gearing up for a debate over new legislation on gun rights and the best way to bolster security in public schools in the wake of new gun restrictions proposed by President Barack Obama after the December school shooting in Connecticut.

This week, House Speaker Scott Bedke assigned Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, to be the point person in the House on all legislation related to firearms and school security. Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Eagle, is spearheading a similar organizational effort in the Senate.

Republican lawmakers, including many from the biggest freshman class in state history, are eager to delve into bills to protect gun rights and address concerns they say are being voiced by constituents back home in their districts.

Bedke said he wants to streamline all the ideas that are emerging so the House can have a focused public discussion about the best course of action.

“I don’t want a bunch of redundant bills,” Bedke told the Idaho Statesman. “I want the common themes consolidated into individual bills. Put the ideas in the arena, let’s do the research and let’s have the debate.”

Boyle, a former volunteer lobbyist for the National Rifle Association who helped pass Idaho’s conceal-carry law in 1990, said voters are eager for action. So far, she said, she’s received 150 emails and countless telephone calls and text messages, all urging lawmakers to respond quickly to the proposals unveiled by the Obama administration this week. She said she’s not unique in hearing from constituents.

“I think we’re all getting the same kind of emails of panic,” Boyle said Thursday. Constituents are “scared, really scared, about losing their guns, or their right to purchase a gun or ammunition, or any component to make their ammunition.”

On the Senate side, Hagedorn said he is trying to shape legislation around school safety and protecting gun rights. For now, it’s not exactly clear what the Senate bills would do or achieve, said Hagedorn, who is also conferring with staff from Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s office.

“Do we have holes we need to fix, along with what we’re doing for the schools?” he said.

Hagedorn said he does not intend to make a bill he sponsored last year to allow guns on campus part of the mix this year, conceding opposition from university presidents was too intense and would distract from the debate.

Still, Hagedorn suggested it may be time to revisit the state’s ban on guns in schools and courthouses.

“One of the things we need to consider is if a person today has a right to protect themselves and carry a gun, when they go into a gun-free zone is there a liability on the state to then take over that protection?” he said.

Boyle said she is consulting with law enforcement and believes now that arming school employees and providing advanced training for violent emergencies is a top priority. She supports letting Idaho’s 115 school districts make decisions on whether to arm employees.

“It’s one thing to carry a gun and it’s another when you have some crazy person coming at you,” she said. “They’re going to have to take responsibility. If they’re not going to accept protection for those students, they’re going to have to accept the liability that they haven’t done that.”

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