Dan Popkey: How Idaho politicians can carry without a permit

State officials have had permission to conceal their guns for more than a century.

November 22, 2013 

There’s been a good deal of commentary questioning why Idaho exempts more than 3,000 elected officials from the rigors of the state’s concealed weapons license process.

The flap was prompted by last week’s news that Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, can continue to carry despite having his license revoked for failing to disclose his 1974 guilty plea in Florida to assault with intent to commit rape.

Outrage about the double standard spans the spectrum, from MSNBC’s left-winger Rachel Maddow to the gun-rights website The Truth About Guns.

But the blanket permission granted state and county officials and others dates to 1909, four years after the assassination of former Gov. Frank Steunenberg.

The original law included fines of up to $200 and up to 60 days in jail, but said “it shall be a good defense to the charge of carrying such concealed weapons if the defendant shall show that he has been threatened with great bodily harm, or had good reason to carry the same in the necessary defense of his person, family, home or property.”

Still, rumors fly. One holds that the 1990 Legislature added “any publicly elected Idaho official” to the list of people who didn’t need a license to protect a couple of sitting lawmakers who wouldn’t have passed newly established criminal background checks.

Nonsense, says former GOP Sen. Denton Darrington of Declo, who retired last year after 30 years in the Senate. Darrington was a legislative lion who chaired the Judiciary Committee that rewrote the law in 1990 to tighten a licensing provision added in 1972.

“I have no recollection of any comment or discussion of that,” Darrington said. “I don’t even know of any legislators who carried in those days. There probably were some, but I don’t know.”

Darrington’s partner on the bill was Senate Minority Leader Bruce Sweeney, D-Lewiston, who died in 2009.

“The reason Bruce Sweeney and I got messed up in this is the fact a lot of people who could pass background checks and had nothing on their records were being denied and couldn’t get a concealed weapons permit,” Darrington told me. “That’s why it says in the first section the sheriff ‘shall’ issue the permit.”

While removing sheriffs’ discretion, the 1990 law added prohibitions that would make applicants ineligible. Among those are a felony record, illegal immigration status, mental illness and drug addiction. Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney revoked Rep. Patterson’s permit for failing to disclose he had a withheld judgment after his guilty plea. Thanks to the exemption, Patterson can carry in Idaho as long as he remains in office, but he’s lost reciprocal rights in 29 states.

Other provisions added in 1990 include fingerprints and nationwide criminal records checks.

The 1990 rewrite expanded blanket permission to carry a concealed weapon to: city officials; employees of the state military division; criminal investigators in the offices of prosecuting attorneys and the attorney general; hunters, fishers and trappers outside city limits; and retired peace officers and detention deputies.

The phrase “any publicly elected Idaho official” also was added. The 1909 law had exempted “officials of a county, officials of the State of Idaho, officials of the United States, peace officers, guards of any jail (and) any officer of any express company on duty.”

That new language granted permission to carry to hundreds of local officials elected to govern schools, local highways, sewers, water systems and other special districts.

Asked whether the exemption for public officials still makes sense, Darrington said, “I guess. I don’t have a problem with it.”

In short, a review of the origin and evolution of the law bolsters Darrington’s case that he and Sweeney weren’t protecting pals with dark pasts. To see for yourself, check out links to four iterations of the law, now Idaho Code 18-3302.

My gratitude to Kristin Ford, the Legislature’s librarian, for schooling me on the history. Said Darrington: “I never argue with Kristin.”

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service