Mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado have some Idaho lawmakers looking for solutions, but thats unlikely to include tighter restrictions on gun rights.
If anything, lawmakers may consider measures that would expand access to weapons, in hopes of preventing such shootings. That includes the possibility of allowing public school teachers to carry guns.
Its unclear if any legislation will actually be introduced this session, but Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said lawmakers are talking.
There are a lot of ideas on the table, he said. It may include firearms education in the classroom, maybe we do something similar to what they do on commercial aircraft with armed marshals. I think the biggest issue will be mental health. Im looking forward to hearing the debate.
House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said one thing the Legislature wont do this session is approve any kind of gun control legislation: There will be no legislation passing this body that restricts the citizens of Idaho from exercising their Second Amendment rights.
The NRA made national headlines last month, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which 20 children and six adults were killed, when it called for armed guards to be posted at all schools. Allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons has been mentioned as another possibility.
Lewiston School Superintendent Joy Rapp said her board will review safety plans this month, but hasnt yet discussed the issue of teachers carrying concealed weapons. Firearms are not allowed on school property.
For me, as I listen to the debate, arming teachers seems to be the wrong way to go, she said. In my conversations with police, they say officers in stressful (shooting) situations are accurate one out of three times and you know how much training they get. So when you think about 27 kids in a classroom, or 300 kids in an assembly, and having a bunch of armed teachers to me that doesnt feel like it increases safety.
Gov. Butch Otter asked retiring Idaho State Police Col. Jerry Russell to work with the Department of Education to review school safety procedures.
The department conducted a similar assessment after another mass shooting in Pennsylvania in 2007. A number of problems were identified, including a lack of crisis response training, inability to control access to many schools and outdated or inoperable security equipment.
A security stakeholder did things like developing a template for a crisis response plan (that local schools could modify and use), said department spokeswoman Melissa McGrath. We also set up combined purchasing for security equipment, like cameras and mass text messaging capability. Now that the issue has come up again, were reconvening that group. Col. Russell will be leading it, and were discussing what else he wants to do.
Shooters in Sandy Hook and Aurora, Colo., both allegedly suffered from mental diseases, so lawmakers will also be discussing mental health services in Idaho.
I believe thats the biggest issue, Hagedorn said. Guns are going to be part of the debate, but not necessarily the main focus.
In his State of the State address, Otter supported a Department of Correction proposal for $70 million in bonds to build a new 579-bed secure mental health prison south of Boise. The facility would have room for civil commitments, as well as criminal.
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett of Ketchum said that might address the tail end of the mental health system.
But we need to be talking about the front end, where we help them be good citizens and provide the care they need so they arent part of the correction system, she said.
We have to remember, a lot of military veterans are coming back with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other problems to rural communities that have very few veterans affairs services or hospitals to serve them. Theyre coming back to rural homes and will need local (services). This is a bigger issue than just what we see when one person cuts loose.
Otter said the state is working to combine programs and provide better service to individuals who need both mental health and substance abuse treatment.