Roy Eiguren has been involved with the Idaho Legislature in some form for 50 years and has seen his share of political highs and lows. His personal history goes back to 1970 when he was a Senate page and a young man named C.L. “Butch” Otter was assistant secretary in the Senate.
I’ve known Roy for almost that long, meeting him when I wrote sports for Moscow’s daily newspaper and he was the University of Idaho’s student body president. Roy has spent most of his career as an attorney and lobbyist, and he’s one of the best. He’s known for being calm, congenial and impeccably prepared – ingredients that have gained him trust with a long list of governors and legislators.
Yes, my old friend has seen a lot at the Capitol over those years – but nothing like what he saw during the first day of the recent special session. An angry mob led by a group called People’s Rights forced its way past security guards and into the House gallery, breaking a door in the process.
“The noise from the glass door breaking was deafening. I was shocked by the incivility,” said Rep. Melissa Winthrow, D-Boise, in her recent newsletter. Later in the day, she heard a lot of booing and jeering when she tried to remind the crowd about the importance of safety and civility.
Eiguren agreed that it was a scary situation. “I witnessed individuals coming into a hearing room with firearms. Some appeared to be intoxicated, and some were shouting at the legislators. You could tell that legislators were visibly upset.”
I wasn’t there for the special session, but saw news clips of state troopers storming a committee room and making arrests – which is something I didn’t think I’d ever see.
If mob rule becomes the “new normal” in the Idaho Statehouse, and guns become as common as coats and ties, then there is going to be a shooting at some point. Potential targets could be a legislator making the “wrong” vote, a lobbyist representing an unpopular client, or a reporter writing a story that somebody doesn’t like. Or, maybe the shooter will be someone who simply hates government.
“Statistically speaking, you’d have to think that over a period of time that someone will be shot,” Eiguren says. “With the renovation of the Capitol, we have dramatically expanded the space in which the public can participate. There are a lot more people in the building, with a lot more firearms.”
And, not surprisingly, there were a lot of nervous legislators in the building. Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, is a staunch supporter of Second Amendment, likes the National Rifle Association and has been around guns for most of her life. But she does not like what she saw at the Statehouse.
“I don’t like seeing the long guns in the Capitol building,” she said. “There are legislators who carry guns. I carry a gun, but this time I didn’t have it in my purse. I had it out on my desk, and I’ve never felt that way before. I’m all for gun rights, but there is a time and place for everything and there’s no place for long guns in the people’s house.”
Eiguren, characteristically, has done some research on the subject. Eleven state capitals across the country allow weapons, and eight of those 11 allow concealed weapons. Idaho is one of three states that allow all types of firearms into the Capitol.
“If you contrast that with other public places in our state, as an example the 44 county courthouses, they all ban firearms,” Eiguren said. “The federal courts and airports ban firearms. So I think we’re going to need to take a pause here and reflect whether it’s an appropriate public policy for firearms to be brought into the Capitol.”
And here we have Idaho, where Statehouse visitors seem to be preparing for a gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Ironically, the mob that stormed into the House gallery didn’t get what they wanted – which was the lifting of Gov. Brad Little’s emergency orders initiated during the coronavirus pandemic. If those orders are still with us in the months ahead, and more anger festers, there’s no telling what we might be seeing in January.
Eiguren is absolutely correct – we need to have a conversation about guns in the Capitol. It would be a shame for lawmakers to wait for a mass shooting before taking action.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org