Mike Masterson: Idaho campus gun bill must be well-vetted; our voices must be heard

GUEST OPINION

February 16, 2014 

A reporter for the Idaho Statesman called my office last week asking if I’d share comments about S.B. 1254, authored by Idaho Sen. Curt McKenzie. I declined and directed him to the upcoming legislative hearing, believing it proper and respectful to first provide my comments directly to the legislators considering the law to allow concealed weapons permit holders and others to carry on some Idaho college campuses. That didn’t work. As the chief of Idaho’s largest city, responsible for policing Idaho’s largest university, I wasn’t allowed to speak at the hearing.

And I wasn’t alone. Moscow Police Chief David Duke, Nampa Chief Craig Kingsbury and Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue were also present to offer testimony as leaders of Idaho communities with responsibility for policing a college campus. None of us got a chance to speak.

The right idea will survive public debate. Arbitrarily ceasing debate raises suspicion about intent. It also destroys trust and confidence in the people running the process— in this case, the hearing in the state Senate.

So I take this opportunity to share my comments with you, the people I serve, and encourage you to share your opinion, whatever it is, with your legislator on this important public safety issue.

Police chiefs across Idaho support citizens’ Second Amendment right to bear arms. We support the portion of S.B. 1254 to allow current and qualified retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed on a college campus. We support a person’s right to carry a concealed weapon for self-defense, provided they are of sound mind and obey the law.

What is troubling, however, is the provision of the bill that authorizes a person with an enhanced concealed-carry permit to carry on a college campus. An enhanced permit requires only the most minimal of basic weapons training. Idaho laws are weak on grounds for denying a CCW permit. This poses public safety concerns trained officers see every day, and it’s a risk too great to be extended to college campuses.

Most experienced officers would testify they have been called to control situations involving individuals who possess a valid CCW permit but who also suffer from serious mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Often these individuals are not taking required medications and are exhibiting behavior perceived to be bizarre and dangerous. Access to weapons is always a priority concern for safety of the officer, the public and the individual involved.

These examples might be the minority of CCW permit holders, but our experience shows that the real numbers are high enough to pose an unnecessary safety risk to students, be it sitting next to our children in a classroom or at a campus tailgating party, where thousands of people gather.

As most CCW permit holders know, carrying a weapon comes with great responsibility and liability. Under S.B. 1254, it’s OK to carry a gun and consume alcohol, but just not too much alcohol. That’s a dangerous combination for anyone, especially a young adult in such a unique and sensitive environment as that found on a college campus.

At least two college facilities, in Meridian and Hailey, have classrooms attached to a high school. How would weapons be treated under S.B. 1254?

Legitimate questions should be raised and openly vetted in public testimony. On this bill, apparently minds are made up from the governor on down, and opportunity for free discussion of all views — including law enforcement’s view of practical or unintended public safety consequences — was minimized.

It should be disturbing that in the people’s house, in a citizens’ legislature, community police leaders were not allowed to speak.

My colleagues and I have discussed these issues and are concerned. Thank you for allowing me to share my views with you in this forum. You, the citizens we all serve, deserve time and answers from the people you elect. Call them, share your views; have your voice heard and demand accountability. Go to http://legislature.idaho.gov/who’smylegislator.htm.

Masterson is chief of the Boise Police Department, which has security responsibility for Boise State University.

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