State Politics

House votes to let domestic abusers keep their gun rights in Idaho

Idaho’s House on Tuesday rejected a proposal that would have prevented convicted domestic abusers from owning guns.

House GOP members voted 39-31 to prevent the measure from moving to the Senate after critics argued the bill infringed upon the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“Statistics show if people want to have access to a gun, they will,” said Rep. Bryan Zollinger, a Republican from Idaho Falls, who opposed the bill. “But there’s just no way to enforce it.”

A recent opinion from the Idaho Attorney General’s office countered that the bill did not violate constitutional rights.

Twenty Republican members – seven of whom are retiring from the Legislature – joined the House’s 11 Democratic members in support. Law enforcement agencies also supported the bill, arguing it would help them better protect communities

Efforts in Idaho to increase any hint of gun control are often blocked by GOP legislative leaders – especially in years like this one when all state lawmakers are up for re-election in the upcoming May primary election.

“We are saying if you’ve been convicted as a criminal, then you should not have a deadly weapon. That’s it,” said Rep. Melissa Wintrow, a Democrat from Boise, who sponsored the legislation. “We could save lives.”

The bill would have made it a misdemeanor for people convicted of domestic violence to possess firearms within two years of the convictions or the crimes. It did not instruct convicted domestic abusers to turn in the guns they already own, meaning it would have required abusers to follow an honor system.

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have passed similar legislation.

Supporters of the bill said the bill wasn’t about gun control, but about protecting families.

“I’m going to stand with battered women and children today, and I’d ask you to do the same thing,” said Republican Rep. Fred Wood, a retired physician who explained he supported the bill because he treated victims of domestic abuse for nearly 40 years.

Currently, federal law already bans anyone convicted of a misdemeanor or felony domestic violence charge from possessing a firearm. However, while the law applies to all 50 states, the federal statute is contingent on matching state laws in order for local officials and judges to enforce the ban. Wintrow’s bill was aimed at providing the matching law for Idaho.

Republican Gov. Butch Otter cited the federal law as a good example of existing regulations to prevent gun violence, while speaking to reporters at a forum Feb. 15. He said after the forum that he supported the concept behind Wintrow’s bill, though he deferred any sort of direct comment on the bill itself before it reached his desk.

Statesman staff contributed.

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