All across America, supposedly, there is a big debate about regulating guns, banning weapons and strengthening background checks.
In Idahos Capitol, home to one of the more ardent and adamant state legislatures in the nation in standing up for the Second Amendment, lawmakers from both parties say that a torrent of public passion about new proposed federal rules is pushing in one direction: toward more guns.
If Idahoans, like Americans in many states, have rushed to buy guns out of fear for personal safety in the aftermath of recent mass shootings, or out of fear of tighter legal controls, then democracy has already spoken, many lawmakers say.
Enable them to do what they believe is right, said state Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, who was designated to be his chambers point man on proposed gun legislation this session. Theres a huge call to all of us to protect the Second Amendment rights.
Every level of government in every state is looking more closely at issues of public safety since the slaughter in Newtown, Conn., of 20 children and six adults in an elementary school in December. But in deeply conservative states such as Idaho, where President Barack Obama didnt even get 33 percent of the vote in November one of his worst showings in the nation the discussion of school safety is occurring separately from the question of whether certain types of guns or high-capacity magazines need to be off-limits.
Some Democrats in the Republican-controlled Legislature are pushing for an expansion of mental health care spending this session Idaho has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, mostly by gun but they are confronting the same torrent of fear and fury from constituents about a perceived threat from Washington to gun owners rights as their Republican colleagues.
(Republicans have a 28-7 majority over Democrats in the Senate and a 57-13 majority in the House.)
The Idaho Department of Education has also been meeting to talk through the new terrain of school safety, even as some districts have said that they might move ahead on their own in allowing teachers and administrators to be openly armed, as Idaho law already permits.
Weve heard all sorts of things, said Matt McCarter, who, as the departments director of student engagement and postsecondary readiness, is leading the safety evaluation.
Beyond talk of more guns, for example, he said he has heard from districts that were talking about attack dogs, and one that was pondering a kind of box mounted to the ceiling that could be dropped on an intruder. I said, Does it come with a moat? McCarter said.
Gov. Butch Otter, who has asked for a report on school safety from the recently retired state police chief, said that allowing people the latitude to keep themselves and their local institutions safe is the best way forward.
For a long time, you couldnt carry a gun on an airplane now the pilots do, Otter said. The captain is in charge here. Weve got to give him all the tools to make sure that he maintains control as he sees fit.
Other authorities in other spheres of life, he said, have the same responsibilities as pilots. The captains of the home are the parents. The captains of the schools are the people that run the schools. So, you know, I see a lot of similarities there, he said.
IDAHO VS. U.S.
Consider another measure of the moment: the 7 a.m. information session on gun laws for lawmakers held by the Idaho Sheriffs Association recently in a Capitol basement meeting room.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, sitting near the back, made the point that federal authorities were establishing a pattern of enforcing some laws and not others. In Washington and Colorado, where voters have approved legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, he said, federal authorities are indicating a willingness to look the other way, even though marijuana possession remains a federal crime.
Is it possible, Moyle asked, to keep new federal gun regulations from being enforced in Idaho?
If theyre picking and choosing what theyre going to enforce, does the state have any control on the other side, picking and choosing on what were going to let them enforce? he said.
Probably not, said the groups moderator, Mike Kane, a former prosecutor and now a lobbyist. As much as I do understand the sentiment, there is no way that I know legally that would hold up, Kane said.
The state House named Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, to act as its leader on the gun issue this year. She and Hagedorn have known each other for years, she said, through hunting clubs or their membership in the National Rifle Association. Before running for office, she volunteered for the NRA to help pass the states concealed weapons law in 1990.
Boyle said one idea that intrigues her is encouraging more advanced weapons training for teachers or other school workers. Otter mentioned a gun club in Utah that recently began offering weapons training to teachers. Two hundred showed up, he said.
Under Idaho law, concealed weapons are not allowed in schools, but local school boards, at their discretion, can allow people to carry openly.
Being elected to any office in Idaho automatically comes with a right to carry a concealed weapon. Otter said in an interview that he has chosen not to.
New House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said he cant guess what might come from this legislative session, but he knows the will of the people is clear.
Idaho will push back, he said, referring to federal gun control proposals. A question that is rolling around in most Idahoans heads right now is, What part of shall not be infringed dont they get?