The travails of a bill to restrict sex offender gun rights, which narrowly passed the House on Thursday, highlights how reluctant Idaho lawmakers are to vote for any type of firearm restriction.
Anyone convicted of sexual battery of a minor under 16 already loses their gun rights in Idaho. The bill put forward Thursday would extend that restriction to those convicted of sexual battery of a 16 or 17 year old.
It passed the Idaho House on a 37-31 vote but only after more than a week of delay and negotiation. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Much of the opposition came from the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance, which bills itself as a “no compromise” gun rights group. The group has helped oust elected officials it sees as insufficiently pro-gun.
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Rep. Melissa Wintrow, the Boise Democrat who sponsored the bill, said she saw momentum start to turn against her bill after the group pressured members to oppose it. A clearly frustrated Wintrow said she reluctantly removed language that included crimes like enticement and taking indecent photos of 16 and 17 year olds to give the bill a better chance to pass.
“It’s deeply troubling that an interest group would have that much influence to scare, influence, threaten lawmakers in this building,” she said.
The bill would still allow offenders to petition to restore their gun rights, but that wasn’t enough for its detractors.
In explaining his opposition the bill, Second Amendment Alliance president Greg Pruett appeared to downplay the seriousness of the crimes outlined in the legislation.
“It’s another issues where there’s a non-violent crime, and they’re trying to prohibit someone from having their rights restored for a non-violent crime,” he said.
Some of the floor debate centered around the potential for relationships between people close in age, one an adult another a minor, though that statute is separate from Thursday’s legislation.
Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, put the onus on teenaged girls in opposing the bill.
“This day and age I see girls that I think are 25 and they’re really 14 or 15 years old and parents are not paying much attention to how kids are dressed or the makeup they put on,” she said. “Today we are putting everything on the male in society.”
Wintrow said the bill was a simple measure to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous sex offenders.
“This came to me because a sheriff was very uncomfortable issuing a conceal carry permit to someone who was convicted of this crime,” she said. “So I’m asking you to vote with me today to protect our children from adult sexual predators and prevent them from owning a deadly weapon in the future.”
Following the vote, the Idaho House Republicans quickly released a statement pushing back against the notion that members were sympathetic to sexual predators.
“We want to make ourselves clear, we do not support any sexual assault or sexual battery on any person at any age,” it reads. “As defenders of the 2nd Amendment, and the Idaho Constitution, we must always act with care when dealing with any type of legislation that might come into conflict with our basic constitutional rights.”