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Posts published in “Day: February 2, 2024”

Schooled on guns

Idaho House Bill 415 fits so neatly into a central piece of political rhetoric that the surprise is that its progress at the legislature has been slowed as much as it has; which is to say, not much.

The bill provides that any public school employee - who obtains an enhanced concealed weapons permit, not terribly hard to get - who wants to carry a firearm or other “deadly weapon” to school can do it, whether local administrators and school boards like it or not. The sponsor, Representative Ted Hill of Eagle, said, “These select school employees will provide an armed force to protect children in the first minutes of an attack. We don’t want to have a stack of 20 kids dead in a classroom because we didn’t do anything.”

The National Rifle Association couldn’t have put it more simply.

After what looked like a short pause, the Idaho House passed it this week (53 to 16, veto-proof), to the Senate for consideration there.

Here are some of the things it does.

Any pistol-packing school employee would have absolute state clearance to carry, regardless whether school principals, teachers, parents, boards or anyone else likes it, “as long as the firearm or deadly weapon is concealed and the school employee maintains immediate control” of it. I’m trying to imagine how that would work in a high school environment. What does that imply about the handling and carrying of guns by staff?

I say “school employee” here because the packers can include not only teachers but, “an officer, board member, commissioner, executive, elected or appointed official, or independent contractor.” Imagine someone who isn’t an educator but has some business relationship with the district … who maybe has a history of domestic or other violence … and obtains an enhanced license. You doubt that could ever happen? Think again. And think as well about how much easier a real shooter would find infiltrating a school already accustomed to seeing adults routinely carrying firearms.

Think too about the school employees who may be well trained to teach but maybe less well schooled on emergency tactical response. The bill has that inexperience question covered this way: “No school employee shall be held civilly or criminally liable for deciding to engage or not to engage in an armed confrontation during a lethal threat to safety inside of a school or on school property. The decision to use a firearm or other deadly weapon during a life-threatening incident inside of a school or on school property lies solely within the school employee and is a personal decision.”

So: If a covered school employee simply decides to pick up their gun - and start firing - the immunity is apparently absolute, regardless who was injured or killed. I can hear right now a smart defense attorney defending a murder charge using this provision as a shield. The beweaponed employee’s personal belief is enough for a shield against any kind of legal action, civil or criminal.

These employees will not be compelled to disclose to anyone but a school administrator (and maybe board: it’s unclear there) and local law enforcement that a gun is in the classroom. In fact, the bill adds a new exemption for Idaho public records law: Any records relating to a school employee who’s carrying. A mere parent would be unable to find out if there’s a gun in their child’s classroom.

Private schools would be specifically exempted from the requirement. The bill’s opening paragraphs seem to endorse carrying guns there too, but a later section says: “Nothing in subsection (4) of this section shall limit the right of an owner of private property, including a private school, from permitting or prohibiting the carrying of a concealed firearm or other deadly weapon on his property.” If it’s such a good idea for public schools, then why not their private counterparts?

There’s also this curious if minor punitive provision: “No public school shall display any signage whatsoever indicating that school property is a gun-free zone, and any violation of this subsection shall result in a fine of three hundred dollars ($300), enforced by the county prosecuting attorney.”

Current state law already allows local school districts to set their own policies, and some Idaho districts do allow some heat-packing by staff. But a Post Falls police detective has pointed out that conditions are different in the various school districts. "In the Post Falls School District, we have a very close relationship with our police department. We’re able to have responding officers at any location in the district within three minutes or less than that. … We need to talk about what’s best for each individual school district."

That’s a problem when legislation devolves to the level of a bumper sticker. As it has here.

As it is, the Idaho Legislature may well pass this thing; it can be labeled “pro-gun” and therefore hard to oppose. But be aware: Extra warnings may be needed in future when you send the kids off to school.