After an hour of sharply divided testimony, a guns-in-school bill passed a House committee along party lines Tuesday.
The House State Affairs Committee passed House Bill 122, which would allow school employees with an enhanced concealed weapons license to carry a gun on school grounds, without local trustees’ permission.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona, acknowledged that more guns in schools could create added risks. But he said he was more concerned by a greater risk — a mass shooting that could unfold in the time it takes law enforcement to arrive at a school.
“If (this bill) can save 10 lives, five lives … it’s worth it,” he said.
During a public hearing Tuesday, some speakers said they were sold on the bill’s merits.
Greg Pruett of the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance also said law enforcement is unlikely to get to school in time to stop an active shooter. While supporting the bill, Pruett also said Idaho needs to address the root cause of school shootings.
“We have a really bad issue with dealing with mental health,” he said. “In the meantime, we have to figure out how to stop this from ever happening in Idaho.”
Adam Mabey, sheriff from southeast Idaho’s rural Caribou County, also testified in support of the bill. But Jeff Lavey, the executive director of the Idaho Sheriffs Association, called HB 122 “ a bridge too far.”
He noted that Idaho has one of the most lenient concealed-carry laws in the nation, requiring eight hours of training. Highly trained law enforcement officers often struggle with accuracy and decisionmaking in an active shooter situation, Lavey said, and armed but relatively untrained school employees would fare even worse.
Alice Arambarri of Coeur d’Alene — a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group favoring gun control legislation — urged lawmakers to consider other ways of addressing school safety, such as hiring additional counselors or school resource officers.
And Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, reminded lawmakers that they have insisted on giving local trustees the power to reopen schools during the pandemic, pushing back against Gov. Brad Little and local health districts in the process. She urged lawmakers to give trustees the same autonomy over guns in schools.
“This is definitely a local governance issue for us,” said Echeverria.
School boards can allow employees to carry firearms, and several districts and charters have already done so. The Idaho Association of School Administrators has proposed a bill to tweak that existing law, but this proposal is on hold in the Senate State Affairs Committee.
But with Tuesday’s 11-2 House State Affairs vote, Christensen’s bill heads to the House floor. A House vote could take place in the next few days.
More Statehouse news: House approves scholarship, Strong Families grant bill.
Idaho Education News covered Tuesday’s hearing remotely.