From the Idaho Statehouse to university lecture halls to the foot of a cross at a Boise house of worship, opponents of the so-called "guns on campus" bill, are praying that the measure currently flying through the Idaho Legislature somehow misfires.
Nampa Republican Sen. Curt McKenzie unholstered his Senate Bill 1254 Feb. 12, and hasn't flinched once in his aim to put more guns on more campuses. Along the way, he hasn't been shy about bending a few legislative protocols: shutting down testimony in front of the Senate State Affairs Committee--where he holds sway as chairman--without hearing from key stakeholders, and refusing to answer questions when the matter came up for debate before the full Senate. And despite his behavior, McKenzie's bill has received solid support from the GOP majority.
McKenzie is a six-term member of the Idaho Senate, Boise lawyer, a frequent sky diver and likes to post online photos of himself while competing in bodybuilding competitions. And he's no stranger to controversy: He cried foul when his then-wife, Renee, was chastised by a federal judge in April 2013 for having "an inappropriate relationship" with a convicted killer (BW, Citydesk, "McKenzie Fires Back at Report on Wife's Relationship With Convict," April 11, 2013). The couple has since divorced and Renee McKenzie has said she now intends to wed the inmate. Additionally, in September 2011, Sen. McKenzie was scrutinized for collecting a $122 per diem reimbursement during the legislative session, even though he lives 26 miles from the Statehouse (BW, Citydesk, "McGee, McKenzie Collecting Per Diem," Sept. 30, 2011).
Some recent legislation that has surfaced at the Idaho Statehouse has been vaguely disguised from the boilerplate guidelines being pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council or the National Rifle Association. But McKenzie isn't that subtle; he even opted to use outside muscle when introducing his guns on campus bill. In fact, McKenzie didn't even introduce his own legislation to his State Senate Affairs Committee on Feb. 12. Instead, he had NRA lobbyist Dakota Moore extol the virtues of the bill which, if approved, would allow holders of enhanced concealed carry weapon permits to pack heat at Idaho's public colleges and universities.
Perhaps McKenzie's most controversial move came later that same day, when he cut off public testimony on the controversial bill, silencing a number of citizens--not the least of which were law enforcement officers who presumably would have been near the top of the list of stakeholders in the matter.
Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson--who doesn't surprise easily--was stunned. Masterson likened McKenzie's censorship to a "no-huddle offense," prompting Masterson, who oversees Idaho's largest municipal police force and public safety for the state's largest university, to take his comments somewhere else: church.
"Senate Bill 1254 is not a well-thought-out bill. It has problems," said Masterson on Feb. 19, speaking in full uniform from the lectern of St. Michael's Episcopal Cathedral just a short walk from the Capitol.
"I'm a citizen and a police chief who is exercising my right to speak out after being denied the right to speak before my elected leaders," he said.
In a conversation with Boise Weekly a few days later, Masterson said he's received a steady stream of support for his comments, even from those who wished to remain anonymous.
"I can tell you that I've had legislators come up to me and say, 'Thank you.' They're not comfortable taking a position of supporting me publicly, and I won't say who they are, but I can tell you that they're not all Democrats," said Masterson. "And inside my department, I've received a number of responses, including one from someone who also happens to be an attorney who said, 'We don't always agree, but we agree on this one.'"
Masterson is quick to add that SB 1254 isn't just about law-abiding citizens and their right to responsibly carry weapons; he supports portions of McKenzie's bill that allow current and qualified retired law enforcement officers to carry guns on campuses.
"But that practice already exists at Boise State," said Masterson.
In particular, Masterson described two troubling scenarios that could become all-too real if McKenzie's bill were to become law:
"No. 1: What's going to happen when a professor is in front of 275 students in a Boise State lecture hall and sees the barrel of a gun underneath somebody's sweater? The professor, or even a student in that class, is going to contact us. How do we investigate, and yes, we'll have to investigate, with the least disruption to that class? Some people say, 'You're just going to have to assume that it's one of the good guys with a gun, and you can walk away.' Well, the police don't walk away. We're going to have to have some kind of contact with that individual with the gun. How do we do that?"
Masterson's second scenario is the real nightmare:
"No. 2: If guns are taken out during some kind of dispute between two individuals, and a uniformed police officer comes to the scene and confronts those individuals, what's going to be their reaction in a split second? Police are instructed to yell: 'Police! Drop the weapon!' You better be dropping those weapons in a millisecond."
Masterson also struggles with inconsistency among Idaho law enforcement agencies, primarily county sheriffs' departments, when they grant concealed weapon permits.
"I sat in a meeting just the other day with other law enforcement agencies, and I can tell you that a sheriff from another county said that the Ada County Sheriff [Gary Raney] won't accept a hunter safety certificate as a substitute for firearm proficiency when he considers granting a concealed weapon permit," said Masterson. "That's just one of the differences between the county sheriffs. And as a result, this sheriff from another county [other than Ada] said people instead go to him when they want to get a permit."
A number of Masterson's own officers in the BPD have told the chief that he shouldn't get involved in politics.
"But I just think that there are some instances where they're inseparable," Masterson told BW. "And that's clearly the case here. We're at the public safety nexus. I've heard from a handful of people who are supporters of this bill. They insist it's a Second Amendment right. They're missing the whole public safety assessment."Editor's Note: On February 28, the Idaho House State Affairs Committee took up Sen. Curt McKenzie's guns on campus bill, and following two three hour-plus sessions, the Republican majority of the committee approved of the measure.
Here are our reports from that day:
UPDATE: Feb. 28, 2014 4 p.m.
Following six hours of testimony from scores of Idaho citizens testifying nearly four-to-one in opposition, the Idaho House State Affairs Committee voted 11 to 3 in the late afternoon of Feb. 28 to approve the so-called "guns on campus" bill, sending it the full Idaho House—the final hurdle before the measure presumably heads to the governor's office for his ultimate decision.
Friday's committee vote was strictly along party lines, with the body's 11 Republicans all voting in favor of Senate Bill 1254 and three Democrats voting no.
After dozens of students, parents, professors and law enforcement had their say in front of the committee, Boise State President Bob Kustra walked to the microphone and said he was "mystified why our friends in the Legislature are insisting on this in spite of the objections of almost everyone."
Kustra wondered aloud what his campus would look like once signage began being constructed at Boise State, indicating where weapons would or would not be allowed, particularly at Taco Bell Arena and Bronco Stadium.
"And once we put up a sign saying 'no guns," the liability shifts to us when there is a gun and something goes wrong," said Kustra.
Former Idaho House Speaker, and current Boise State spokesman, Bruce Newcomb asked the House committee, "What's the emergency here?"
"If you think this bill was a collaborative bill and we were part of the process, it wasn't," said Newcomb. "It was a silo process. My suggestion is this: instead of ramming this bill through, invite all the stakeholders to the table.:
Then, Newcomb likened the guns on campus bill to another recent controversial chapter in the Idaho Legislature's history: the Luna Laws.
"We already went through something like this on Props 1, 2, and 3," said Newcomb, referring to Idaho voters overturning the legislature's vote to approve the controversial education measures crafted by Idaho School Superintendent Tom Luna.
But Newcomb's former Republican colleagues were having none of it, and powered through their vote to pass the guns on campus bill, sending the measure to the full House with a "do pass" recommendation.
ORIGINAL POST: Feb. 28, 2014 12 p.m.
- Harrison Berry
- Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson testified before the Idaho House State Affairs Committee Feb. 28.
The Idaho House State Affairs Committee gaveled into session at 8 a.m. Friday morning facing a full house set to testify on Senate Bill 1254—the so-called "guns on campus" measure. More than three hours later, the committee was still going through its list of attendees who had made their way to the Capitol to testify, most of them in opposition.
"We're approaching the witching hour," said Committee Chair, Iona Republican Rep. Tom Loerstscher, looking at the clock. "We're going to have to depart. We'll take a break here and come back about 1 p.m. We still have 19 people signed up to testify."
The morning was packed with testimony, beginning with the bill's sponsor, Sen. Curt McKenzie. The Nampa Republican chose to introduce his own legislation, as opposed to when the bill was introduced in a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing, where McKenzie turned to a lobbyist from the National Rifle Association to unveil the bill.
"Would you rather that no one be armed but the murderer?" McKenzie asked the committee in pushing for his legislation, which would allow enhanced concealed weapons permit holders to carry weapons onto the campuses of Idaho public universities and colleges.
But a steady string of stakeholders pushed back against McKenzie's bill, including officials from Idaho's universities, teachers, students and law enforcement from across Idaho.
Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson, who was stunned when he and other stakeholders were not allowed to speak at the Senate committee hearing chaired by McKenzie, challenged the House lawmakers to engage with stakeholders before moving forward with such an effort.
"Create a commitment to bring back (the bill) during the next session involving your law enforcement leaders, teachers, students and, yes, even the NRA," said Masterson.
"We don't know [who's bad and who's good]. We go to where shots are fired and we take action," said Moscow Police Chief David Duke. "If [the bill] passes, we will change our training."
"My experience and common sense tells me that putting firearms in our classrooms and campus venues is, quite simply, not a good idea," University of Idaho's interim President Don Burnett told the panel.
"Campuses are extraordinarily safe places," said Idaho State Board of Education President Don Soltman. "This bill is not about safety."
"This bill significantly erodes our ability to effectively govern and manage campuses," said Mark Browning, vice president of North Idaho College.
"This bill is bad policy," said University of Idaho general counsel Kent Nelson. "The law would introduce weapons on campus without our ability to determine if the weapons are properly there or not."
"Either this bill has been poorly drafted or this bill has been falsely advertised," said State Board of Education member Rod Lewis. "Passage of this bill would set our institutions back significantly, and maybe irreparably."
“This dialogue is alive and well on campus," said Max Cowan, President of the Associated Students of the University of Idaho. "While consensus is difficult, we want to make this decision close to home. We value autonomy."
And while the bill's proponents were clearly outnumbered 4 to 1 in Friday's testimony, their arguments were fervent.
"I have spent countless hours honing my [gun] skills," said Callie Sands, who said she was a part-timel teacher from McCall. "It's important for people to be able to protect themselves. Where do lunatics go? they go to the soft targets."
"I personally know plenty of people that actually cary on campus," said Boise State Student Kelby Monks, the son of Meridian Republican Rep. Jason Monks, a member of the committee. "So guns are already on campus whether universities like it or not."
"The universities keep moving the goalposts," said former Rep. Erik Simpson. "This is why we need this bill. We have nothing in statute."
Committee Chairman Loertscher said he was intent on allowing everyone who had signed up to testify to have their say, but it will require a rare second session in the same day.
- Harrison Berry
- Max Cowan, President of the Associated Students of the University of Idaho.