Writings and observations

Residents of a good many other states (Washington and Oregon among them) may find startling the way Idaho elected officials can be temporarily replaced – with those temporary unelected replacements holding all the authority of the person actually chosen by the voters to the job. Permanent replacements, on occasion for instance of death or resignation, is standard in most elective settings (Congress too), but temporary fill-ins are unusual.

They could be subject to abuse: Want to give a prominent (or wealthy) supporter a thrill, and let them cast some votes on legislation? It could be arranged, through nomination by the legislator (and a typical rubber stamp by the governor) …

No accusations here that it has happened, at least not in that way. Usually when substitutes are brought in, they’re for legislators during part of a three-month legislative session, most often in case of an elected official’s illness – though sometimes other reasons for absence crop up. And sometimes they’ve come into question. There’s been at least one instance, some years back, of an elected legislator who fell ill shortly after election, and his unelected brother served nearly his entire term for him.

This comes up because the legislature is almost always where substitutes are named, but it actually happened this week (for the first time in decades) in the case of a statewide office.

It’s a clear-cut instance, and all the elements seem reasonable enough. Donna Jones is the state controller. On May 25 she was in a motor vehicle rollover near Rupert, and seriously injured. She’s recovering, but it’s taking substantial time and therapy, and it may be a while before she can get back to the office on a regular basis. So she asked Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter to name her chief deputy, Brandon Woolf, as substitute controller, which would give him authority to keep the wheels turning at the office and provide a vote on the land board, until she’s well enough to get back to work. And Otter did that this week.

This approach seems, at least done in this way, a reasonable method of keeping operations afloat. Is it something other states might consider – and if so, under what conditions?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The election earlier this month of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s former aide, Ron Barber, (who was also wounded in the tragic shooting) to her seat in Congress undoubtedly spawned another round of editorials calling for tougher gun control laws. Most, one suspects, will draw the incorrect conclusion about her tragic shooting during a town hall listening session outside a Tucson supermarket in which six people died.

Some no doubt will cite recent FBI generated data which purports to show approximately 1.5 million Americans (This number seems high.) acquired handguns in December 2011.

Then will come the litany of senseless gun deaths this past year. No one can or should ignore recent gun crimes throughout the region – from the park ranger’s death in Mt. Rainier National Park, to the University of Idaho professor’s shooting of a student, to police officer shootings in Utah and Spokane.

Too many editorialists insinuate, though, that increased gun ownership statistics indicate a failing of the system here in America. They wrongly conclude more guns in the hands of more people is a given “bad thing” in light of the acts of a few obviously mentally unstable individuals. It is a classic false syllogism.

It is also disingenuous to imply increased handgun ownership correlates with an increase annually in gun violence. Such pundits ignore the overwhelmingly positive statistic that can also be extrapolated from that FBI data – there are 1.5 million new handguns acquired by responsible individuals who did not use them for violence or mayhem.

Personal responsibility and the right to defend oneself aren’t sexy stories, however. In the wake of violent crime in which a firearm is used, it is easier for some to bemoan gun violence and call for increased gun control. The media’s group think attack on the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law has been sad to watch given how unbalanced the reporting has been.

Others also complain about the National Rifle Association’s influence at the legislative level while ignoring the fact that the NRA and its legislative arm, the NRA-ILA (Institute for Legislative Action), are hugely well-funded primarily because responsible gun-owners feel this organization is their only hope for the strict legislative defense of the individual’s right to keep and bear arms.

The issue, then, should not be that the NRA has major legislative influence, or even whether that influence is a bad thing. Nor should the primary focus be “How can we protect ourselves from gun violence by restricting the rights of all individuals hoping we trip a few criminals by such restrictions?”

Instead, we should focus on how we protect the rights of responsible individuals while also making gun ownership impossible for those who have serious mental problems. It is for that very reason most sensible folks, even many card-bearing NRA members, do support the mandatory three-day waiting period while a background check is conducted and also support closing the gun show sales loophole.

People have a constitutionally guaranteed right, however, to own their pistols, shotguns and rifles as well as a responsibility to use them in a legal and responsible manner. It is one of the unique rights, along with property ownership, that distinguishes Americans from the rest of the world and helps to make this a great nation. To imagine we might ever live in a world where guns are never misused by idiots is to have blinders on about humankind and human nature.

Some people will always make poor decisions about their actions and some will never care about consequences. Further restricting or outright banning handguns, as some advocate, only complicates the issue for law-abiding individuals. Would it really solve the perceived problem?

The University of Idaho campus is supposedly a gun-free zone but that did not prevent the senseless murder of Katy Benoit by her mentally unbalanced former instructor. If the National Parks’ gun ban had still been on the books, would ranger Margaret Anderson still be alive? It is doubtful.

Well-meaning opinion leaders who call for tougher gun laws always overlook one glaring logical flaw: Criminals do not obey laws. Thus, some mentally unstable individual intent on creating havoc is not going to get to a gun-free zone and suddenly realize he might be breaking a law and turn his car around.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting was tragic, as is all gun crime. The most important take away from her resignation, though, comes from realizing we live in a free country and life comes with inherent risks. Rather than pointing a finger at the NRA or further restricting individual rights, we should all work together to find ways to make sure responsible gun ownership is protected, while politely (but firmly) declining to acquiesce to calls from well-meaning individuals that we are somehow collectively safer if we voluntarily give up one of the rights we, as Americans, do inherently possess.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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