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ID Supreme Court hears Festival at Sandpoint firearms case

Idaho Public TV screenshot
Attorney Katharine Brereton, representing the city of Sandpoint, makes her case before the Idaho Supreme Court.

The case involves a current state senator from the Panhandle.

A case that explores whether the Festival at Sandpoint can ban firearms went before the Idaho Supreme Court Monday.

The case involves a sitting member of the Idaho legislature. During the summer of 2019, Scott Herndon, then a private citizen but now a state senator, and a companion named Jeff Avery came to Sandpoint’s War Memorial Field to see a Festival show. They were carrying firearms. A guard at the gate and a county attorney wouldn’t let them in.

“The city of Sandpoint’s government is merely the guardians of the public trust, which means the city government has no power to regulate the public’s right to carry firearms for self defense on public property," said Donald Kilmer, a Caldwell, Idaho attorney representing Herndon, Avery and two Second Amendment groups.

The two men had their tickets refunded and they left. But they later sued, claiming the city and Festival, among other things, conspired to deprive them of their right to carry their firearms onto the property. The District Court judge ruled against them and they then appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court.

The city argued it had rented the land to the Festival, which essentially made the venue private during the run of the lease. Doesn’t matter, said Kilmer.

“In this case, the lease was illegal from its start,” he said. He argued there’s no evidence the city council approved a resolution, putting the park off limits to the public at the time of the Festival. And even if it did, “The disposition of public property in Idaho, whether it’s a lease or a full conveyance, is a legislative function and cannot be delegated to an agency or a city government," he said.

Kilmer said War Memorial Field is not a venue that has strategic sensitivity, like a courthouse or a public school, where there’s a legitimate interest in regulating firearms.

The city, represented by attorney Katharine Brereton, said the attorneys for the gun proponents have failed to prove that the trial court ruling was wrong. Instead, Brereton said, they argue that there’s a nefarious process to deprive law-abiding citizens of their right to protect themselves.

“Appellants have claimed that the city and the Festival had a premeditated plan, a conspiracy, cloaked in the robes of a lease and that they were in collusion to violate public policy,” she said.

Brereton said the Second Amendment activists seem interested in trying to make this case a precedent setter.

“From the beginning this has been a test case,” she said. “And, as appellants have continuously demonstrated, one without a reasonable basis in fact or law.”

The court took the case under advisement.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.