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Idaho lawmakers OK guns on college campuses

BOISE, Idaho -- The House voted Thursday to back a bill that would allow students, faculty and visitors to carry guns on Idaho's college campuses.

The 50-19 decision came after proponents argued the bill would uphold Second Amendment rights and give people on campuses to a way to protect themselves.

The legislation aims to let retired law enforcement officers and people with Idaho's enhanced concealed-carry permit bring guns anywhere except dormitories, stadiums and concert halls.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said giving people the right to be armed and ready even in classrooms will let them act to halt or prevent violence while police are still too far away to intervene.

Boyle countered concerns that requirements for an enhanced permit - which requires applicants be 21 or older, take an eight-hour class and fire at least 98 rounds - aren't enough to prepare a civilian to act in a stressful, high-stakes situation.

"You do not buy a firearm, take a class, then put it away," Boyle said. "This is for your self-protection, and you know the more you practice the better you are."

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, voted to send the bill forward in the hope it will give students and faculty a way to fend off criminals.

It would be wrong to rob potential victims of the chance to defend themselves against an attacker simply because they were on a college campus, Andrus said.

Lawmakers who voted against it skewered the measure, saying it's being pushed through despite opposition from the heads of all eight public colleges and universities in the state.

Several university and college presidents testified at a public hearing that such a law would disrupt the learning environment they strive for and could put people at risk.

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, called the measure a "financial kick in the shins" for colleges who say they now have to spend an estimated total of nearly $5 million to upgrade equipment and train security.

Universities will likely be forced to siphon that money out of professors' salaries, athletics and other programs, Rubel said.

The legislature's choice to tune out college leaders and students who say they don't want a weaponized campus is "sending a message of disregard and contempt" to the stakeholders who could be the ones staring down the barrel, she said.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said she worried about putting guns in the hands of students who may develop mental illness or even just suffer a lapse in judgment. "For a person such as that to have easy access to a gun is problematic," Ringo said.

Adding deadly weapons to a mix of academic pressures and drinking culture could bring serious consequences, she said.

The issue has inspired heated debate outside the walls of the Statehouse, as well.

A rally on the Capitol steps last week drew a crowd of hundreds. A majority of demonstrators said they opposed the bill, although a smaller contingent of supporters turned out as well, some with guns strapped to their hips.

The bill has already cleared the Senate with a 25-10 vote. Now, it heads for the governor's desk, where Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter will decide whether to sign it into law.

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