Bedke, others cannot end permitless-carry issue in secret gun committee

Wayne Hoffman Articles, Individual liberty

You might think passage of pro-gun legislation in Idaho would be no big thing. However, it is. For the last few years there have been attempts to get Idaho to become the seventh state that does not require its residents to have a permit to carry concealed weapons. But, for the last few years, those efforts have floundered, mostly behind closed doors.

This year, there is renewed hope for a different outcome. Idaho Reps. Ron Nate of Rexburg and Heather Scott of Blanchard have circulated drafts of two bills that would eliminate many concealed-carry permit requirements for Idahoans. I’m told other gun proposals are also in the works for the 2016 legislative session. The goal, ultimately, is to get our state’s policy to a place where Idahoans are no longer breaking the law when they exercise their Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.

Our state constitution allows people to openly carry guns without a permit, but it also allows the Legislature to regulate concealed carry. For the last several years, gun owners have tried to get lawmakers to allow people to carry concealed weapons without the need for a permit. Known as permitless carry or constitutional carry, the idea hasn’t made it very far down the path toward passage. Last year, when a permitless carry bill was introduced, it got bottled up in a secret House-Senate committee that reviews all gun legislation before it goes forward.

House Speaker Scott Bedke says the committee isn’t secret. Yet, the committee doesn’t have open meetings, meeting minutes or even a roster of its members. Some, including me, have argued, that is the very definition of secrecy. Bedke and other defenders of the committee contend it’s been an effective tool to pass pro-gun legislation in the past. If it were truly effective, we’d have permitless concealed carry already. If the committee were effective, Idahoans would be the same as Maine residents, whose legislators passed, and Gov. Paul LePage signed into law, permitless carry in 2015.

In reality, the purpose of the committee is to prevent embarrassment for lawmakers who vote against gun legislation they believe goes too far. The secrecy gives them all cover when gun legislation fails to advance, because everyone has plausible deniability for not being responsible for a bill’s demise.

The truth is, some unknown number of lawmakers have no problem with the permitless open carry allowed by the Idaho Constitution. But, they contend, Idahoans should continue to have some level of training before they’re granted government permission to carry a weapon that is concealed from public view.

Some legislators are worried that changes to Idaho’s concealed carry law could mean the state’s concealed carry license will no longer be recognized by other states, or cause gun owners to run into complications involving federal gun laws. But those are precisely the types of issues that should be debated in an open forum. If a criticism of permitless carry is warranted, let it be aired. When issues are debated in secret or never at all, it fuels mistrust and misunderstanding, leading us to where we are today.

Permitless carry is an idea deserving of support. At minimum, it is worthy of open, public discussion.