Brian Murphy: Will there be guns in Bronco Stadium?

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comMarch 2, 2014 

— Let me start with two predictions. First, Senate Bill 1254 — the so-called “guns on campus” bill that is now awaiting a vote by the full Idaho House — will pass and become law. Second, someone will try to open carry a gun into Bronco Stadium this fall to test the limits of SB 1254.

Despite the stated intent, I don’t believe this is a bill designed to improve safety on Idaho’s public college campuses, places where I spend a fair amount of time and places that host most of the best-attended sporting events in the state.

No, this bill, sponsored by Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, and passed through the Senate earlier in the legislative session, is designed to protect a right that guns rights’ absolutists believe is being infringed on college campuses — the right to keep and bear arms as protected by the Second Amendment.

That’s why the full Senate and the House State Affairs Committee voted to pass the bill that is unanimously opposed by the presidents of Idaho’s public universities and colleges, the State Board of Education and the police chiefs in Boise and Moscow, home to the state’s two largest universities.

If you believe something is a right, guaranteed in the U.S. and Idaho constitutions, then the public outcry doesn’t truly matter when it comes time to cast a vote.

Before you crumple up the paper and pen your letter to the editor, keep reading.

Fundamentally, this is no different than what advocates for gay marriage are doing all over this country. If you believe that gays have the right to marry, and that they are being denied their equal protection under the law, then you keep fighting in statehouses and in courtrooms until that right is guaranteed in all 50 states. Why would you stop before that?

Which brings me back to the matter at hand — a gun in Bronco Stadium.

If you are a guns’ right absolutist and you believe that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution entitles you to bear arms in public places, then why wouldn’t you try, having already won the limited right to carry on campus, to expand that right into a football stadium on a public campus?

Sen. McKenzie’s bill is clear: It does not allow the carry of a concealed weapon in any entertainment venue with more than 1,000 people on college campuses. Where it is much less clear is whether it allows the open carry — that is, a clearly visible weapon — in those same places.

The universities claim the bill, if it becomes law, would not allow them to regulate that situation, opening the door for someone to openly carry a weapon into a football game. One of the bill’s supporters, former Republican Rep. Erik Simpson of Idaho Falls, citing the state constitution, said during his testimony that “nothing stops anyone from openly carrying” on campus.

Brian Kane, Idaho’s assistant chief deputy attorney general, said that’s not his interpretation of the bill. He said the bill still gives universities’ general authority over their campuses when it comes to guns and would allow them to ban someone with a gun from an entertainment venue.

“My interpretation is that this provides them (universities) with the general umbrella authority and then it creates an exception for these two license holders (enhanced concealed carry permit holders and retired peace officers) and then even those license holders are not allowed to bring weapons into these areas (dorms and entertainment venues) specifically,” Kane said.

“If I were the attorney for those venues, my recommendation would be don’t let them in. Then as the attorney for that entity, I would defend the university’s authority under the statute to the fullest intent possible.”

Lawmakers could wait, clean up the bill’s language, work with the state’s universities to reach consensus and attempt to pass the reworked bill later this session or next session. There is no rush on this bill.

It’s the course of action I’d recommend, but then my reading of the Second Amendment is admittedly more nuanced than that of an absolutist.

So let me finish with a third prediction: This issue, like so many, will end up in court with a judge being tasked with deciphering whether or not someone can openly carry a gun into Bronco Stadium, Taco Bell Arena, Moscow’s Kibbie Dome or Pocatello’s Holt Arena.

And then it will be up to you, the fan, to decide if you want to attend a game under those conditions.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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