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Idaho lawmakers vote down compromise school facilities gun bill

James Dawson/Boise State Public Radio

An Idaho Senate committee has narrowly defeated a compromise gun safety bill for schools.

The bill is a response to legislation approved two weeks ago by the Idaho House. That would have given school employees with concealed weapons permits the right to wear their firearms at work. The information about which people carried weapons would be shared with district officials and law enforcement.

Jim Guthrie, R-Bannock County, the chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, which was assigned to consider the bill, wasn’t comfortable with it. In presenting an amended version of the bill on Wednesday, he says he tried to negotiate a compromise to give school boards the right to develop their own policies about employees carrying guns.

“We get offended when the federal government tells us what to do as we advocate for local control and protection of our state sovereignty. With a policy this potentially impactful and emotionally charged, I choose to err on the side of local control,” he said.

Guthrie's bill was endorsed by Morgan Ballis, the president of the Idaho Association of School Resource Officers.

“This bill strikes a brilliant balance between providing a pathway for educators who want to make the personal decision to carry a firearm on campus to protect themselves and their students as well as maintaining local control for school boards to be able to collaborate and work closely with law enforcement partners to develop policies and training programs,” he said.

The legislation also had the support of Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, who talked about the need to set aside her own biases against having any kind of firearms at school.

“For the first time in 10 years, I’m ready to vote for a gun bill. I can’t believe it. Hopefully my constituents are going to be ok with that," she said.

Wintrow, Guthrie and a few other legislators classified the bill as school safety legislation. Others termed it a Second Amendment bill.

Opponents say giving local school boards the authority to decide about firearms means some districts may prohibit firearms, which they say violates employees’ Second Amendment rights. They said the legislation also would allow school boards the right to dictate what types of firearms might be allowed on school campuses.

By a 5-4 vote, the panel voted against sending Guthrie’s bill to the full Senate to be amended and then considered. By the same margin, the committee then voted to table the bill.

Some of the senators in the majority praised Guthrie for attempting to find a compromise, but said his version isn’t ready for consideration by the full Senate. One of them, Treg Bernt from Meridian, then urged his colleagues not to let the momentum toward school safety pass.

“I would hope that every single stakeholder in this room will step up and have these hard discussions. It’s incredibly important because we’re talking about children,” he said.

There may not be time to find an acceptable compromise. Only about 10 days remain in the Idaho legislative session.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.