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Idaho's anti-militia law is under fire again

Heath Druzin/Boise State Public Radio

Part of Idaho’s anti-militia law is once again being targeted for repeal under a more conservative state legislature.

The proposal comes from Sen. Dan Foreman (R-Moscow), who’s among a group of far-right lawmakers in the legislature.

His bill would repeal a nearly century-old law banning the formation of armed groups and their public demonstrations aside from the Idaho National Guard. Idaho’s Constitution also outlaws private militias, saying the “military shall be subordinate to the civil power.”

“There’s a nice, a comfortable level of cooperation between these groups and local law enforcement,” said Foreman.

“In fact, I know of two sheriffs in the area who welcome these groups” to help assist in “times of trouble” because sheriffs’ offices are understaffed, he said.

Foreman also said the statute potentially violates people’s First and Second Amendment rights to freedom of assembly and their ability to keep and bear arms.

Gov. Brad Little’s office tried to repeal the law last year, saying it was outdated red tape. But that effort was dropped after anti-extremism experts criticized the move.

A letter sent to lawmakers in 2021 from Mary McCord, the executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law, argued the
statute is legal.

As previously reported by Boise State Public Radio, the letter outlined a U.S. Supreme Court case from 1886 that challenged a similar Illinois law. The ruling found it to be constitutional.

“The need for [militias] to be 'well regulated’ was well recognized,” the letter states.

During the brief committee hearing Wednesday morning, Foreman pushed back on the notion that repealing the law would only aid extremists.

“It wouldn’t allow Aryans Nations [sic] or a skin-head group or neo-Nazis to march armed. It would allow all Americans to do so.”

But, he said, dumping the statute wouldn’t prevent police from enforcing other laws.

“It’s not a get out of jail free card or an excuse to misbehave.”

Idaho has been a hotbed for militia activity for decades, including elected officials listing membership to such groups in their official biographies.

Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon (R-Burley) moved to introduce the legislation, saying it warranted further discussion.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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