Campus guns bill advances in Idaho Legislature

Legislation would still allow schools to ban firearms from dorm rooms, residence halls and entertainment venues

Feb. 13--BOISE -- Despite objections about a "hasty" process, the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee sent the "guns on campus" bill to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation Wednesday.

Only about a third of the people who signed up were able to testify during the two-and-a-half-hour hearing, in part because a representative of the National Rifle Association took nearly an hour to present the bill.

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, asked that the hearing be continued to another day so more people could comment, but his motion was defeated on a party-line vote.

Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson, one of several police officials in the audience who were unable to testify, subsequently blasted the committee and its chairman, Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa.

"Where is our democracy today when the police leaders directly responsible ... for your safety are effectively silenced by the chair of a committee who introduced the bill himself?" Masterson said in a news release. "I urge citizens from all over Idaho who have an interest in this issue to contact their senators and representatives and share your opinion ... Let's hope democracy can be restored through other means -- the people's voice."

McKenzie has tried for years to prohibit colleges and universities from banning firearms on campus, saying the practice undermines Second Amendment rights and leaves law-abiding citizens vulnerable.

His latest effort allows the institutions to ban firearms from dorm rooms, residence halls and entertainment venues that seat more than 1,000 people; they can also prohibit anyone younger than 21 from having firearms. However, retired law enforcement personnel and people who have an enhanced concealed carry permit would be exempt from regulation.

Dakota Moore, the NRA's Idaho state liaison, said the measure "seeks to achieve a safer environment for college students and employees ... The practical effect is that qualifying, law-abiding students and employees will no longer be denied a fundamental right."

Kimberly McAdams, an abnormal psychology professor at Boise State University, said the legislation couldn't come at a more opportune time, as she was allegedly threatened by a former student just a few weeks ago.

"He wanted to come to campus and shoot me," she said. "He was in custody, but he was released yesterday. I respectfully disagree with the university presidents (who uniformly oppose the bill). They aren't the ones in the line of fire. They aren't constantly faced with the terror, if the worst scenario happens, of what to do to save themselves and their students. Please give me a fighting chance to save my life."

Former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, now BSU's director of governmental relations, said campus security is actively monitoring McAdams' situation. The student has been banned from campus, and she's been moved to a more secure classroom. Moreover, under BSU's existing regulations, she can request a concealed weapons permit, so McKenzie's bill isn't needed.

"This bill is ripe for the political times," he said. "It's ripe, according to the NRA, but is this good public policy? Absolutely not."

Gary Margolis, a campus safety consultant who works with BSU and the University of Idaho, said college campuses are typically safer environments than the surrounding communities.

"I have 20 years of law enforcement experience and spent more than a decade as a university police chief," he said. "A bill that facilitates ease of access to firearms on campus is likely to have no positive effect on campus safety. The fact that college students engage in risky behavior like binge drinking and have higher suicide rates than the general population implies that armed students are more likely to create an unsafe environment for themselves or their fellow students."

Moore, the NRA rep, suggested most university drinking is done off campus, where firearms are already legal. He also noted McKenzie's bill includes enhanced penalties for people who carry concealed weapons on campuses while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

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