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Three committee chairs defend votes against permitless concealed-carry bill

Three committee chairs defend votes against permitless concealed-carry bill

Dustin Hurst
March 21, 2016
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March 21, 2016

The three Republican committee leaders, who last week sided with House Democrats to oppose permitless concealed carry legislation, today explained their opposition to the bill.

In separate emails to IdahoReporter.com, Reps. Fred Wood of Burley, Maxine Bell of Jerome and Rich Wills of Glenns Ferry, detailed their votes against Senate Bill 1389, the plan to allow permitless concealed carry statewide.

Bell, a co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, told IdahoReporter.com, she worries that removing the permit mandate for concealed carry will endanger Idahoans.

“Concern about the loss of some safety gun training and my mail ran in that direction by three to one,” Bell wrote in response to an IdahoReporter.com question.

But, Idahoans can already carry guns -- openly -- sans a permit or safety training. When asked about that, Bell likened the situation to driving. The veteran legislator wrote, “It doesn't matter if you are driving in town or in the country, still need a license and some lessons.”

She added, even though Idaho law doesn’t require safety training for open carry, she believes many “are wise to have had some training” for it.

Wills, now retired from the Idaho State Police, offered a unique perspective; he’s one of the few former law enforcement officials who hold legislative seats. He also worried the measure would lead to more gun violence for everyday situations.

“I also am concerned about people now using a gun on [sic] any dispute, just because they have a disagreement with another,” Wills wrote. “There has been a cultural change in society today and there is very little concern about human life, compared to the past.”

Wills also expressed concern the bill would make stopping mass shootings more difficult for police officers and could lead to accidental killings.

“I hope we have not opened the door to people coming to the rescue, now that they are armed and the officer who arrives, not knowing the bad guy from the good guy,” Wills explained.

Wills isn’t the only public official with law enforcement ties who expressed reservations about the plan. Police chiefs from Boise, Garden City and Meridian opposed the measure earlier this month in a joint column published by the Idaho Statesman.

But, many in law enforcement backed the bill. The Idaho Sheriffs Association endorsed the plan, along with the Fraternal Order of Police.

Another legislator with law enforcement experience differed from Wills. Rep. Don Cheatham, a former Los Angeles police officer and detective for 25 years, supported the bill during Friday’s vote.

In his testimony, Cheatham told colleagues he’s spoken with many witnesses of killings who wished they’d had a gun during the event so they “could’ve saved the person in the body bag.”

Wood’s reasoning for his dissent varied slightly from that of Wills and Bell. Wood wrote Monday that he worried permitless carry will expand access to guns to people who should not have them.

“I personally do not believe that convicted felons or mentally ill individuals should be able to own, possess or use firearms,” Wood wrote. “Without an enhanced permit system, there is no way of identifying those individuals. This legislation effectively eliminates the permit system, destroying any means of identifying felons and the mentally ill.”

Federal law prohibits felons and mentally ill individuals from possessing guns. Laws also prevent gun owners from knowingly selling firearms to a large list of people, including illegal immigrants, felons and mentally ill individuals.

The permitless concealed-carry bill now awaits a decision from Gov. Butch Otter. He maintained a non-committal position during a press conference earlier this year, but Lt. Gov. Brad Little endorsed the measure in a column released last week.

The bill would allow law-abiding Idaho residents 21 and older to conceal their firearms without a permit, though there are still some minor restrictions. It would still be illegal to carry firearms at public schools and on public college campuses without an enhanced permit.

The bill would not end Idaho’s permit system. Permits would still be available for Idahoans who want to carry in other states with which Idaho shares reciprocity agreements.

Idahoans between 18 and 20 would still need a safety class and a permit before carrying inside city limits. This age group would still be allowed to conceal guns outside city limits.

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