Following a sometimes contentious and, at times, emotional testimony during a two-hour Senate committee hearing on possessing firearms under certain circumstances on Idaho’s state college and university campuses, members of the Senate State Affairs Committee Wednesday voted 7-2 to advance Senate Bill 1254 to the full Senate.
Perhaps the most compelling testimony came from a Boise State University professor who supports the bill. Saying “I respectfully disagree with the presidents of Idaho’s colleges and universities who have all testified against this,” Dr. Kim McAdams told of her fear of not being armed on campus to defend herself against a stalker.
She said of a former student: “He was in two of my classes in 2012 and I’ve had no contact with him since then. As a professor of abnormal psychology, I know what happens during these psychotic episodes. The perpetrator loses the ability to reason, they lack rationality and they are solely focused on completing the act. With all due respect, the presidents of our colleges and universities are not the ones in the line of fire when somebody attacks. Please give me a fighting chance.”
McAdams said the former student is now incarcerated, but when he is released she is uncertain what she will do to protect herself.
Prior to McAdams' testimony, Don Burnett, interim president of the University of Idaho, testified in opposition to the bill. Speaking of himself and the other presidents of Idaho's public colleges and universities, Burnett told the committee "we have expressed grave concern and unified opposition to this bill. There is little empirical research about the benefits of guns on campuses, lots of anecdotes, but little research."
After McAdams spoke, Bruce Newcomb, director of government relations for BSU, told the committee that a security guard had been assigned to McAdams' classrooms, and that the student accused of stalking had been banned from the campus.
In a lengthy presentation, Dakota Moore, a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, addressed what he referred to as several "myths" about the legislation. Asserting that it is a fallacy to compare college campuses to other types of government buildings like courtrooms, he noted that "many of these types of government facilities are secured by other means, like using metal detectors. College and university campuses do not generally provide this, and have far more open-air spaces where such security is not possible."
Moore also accused Dr. Bob Kustra, president of BSU, of "perpetuating the myth" that there have not been any instances of students using a weapon in self-defense on a college campus.
"I know he put out an email to the other college and university presidents about this," Moore stated. "Yet five days before he sent that email, USA Today had reported an incident of a shooting on a Florida college campus that appeared to have been in self-defense.”
During Moore's testimony, Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, asked Moore "what is the NRA's ultimate goal here?" Moore replied that the NRA wanted the bill to pass.
"So the NRA does not have it as a goal that all people carry firearms in all parts of a campus?" Werk asked.
"Not that I am aware of at this time," Moore replied.
"I’ve gotten some messages from people who are upset about this legislation because they see it as an infringement on their Second Amendment rights," Werk continued. "Are you saying that the NRA actually supports some restrictions on Second Amendment rights?"
"That may be a bit of an unfair characterization" Moore responded."But we believe that this is the best that we can do."
"I note that you just stated that this is the ‘best that you can do,’ which would imply that you’re actually seeking to do more eventually, but I’ll let that one go for now,” said Werk, but added that he has concerns about the wording of the legislation, noting that "this reads to me as though it is a blanket indemnification to the colleges and universities."
Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Boise, chair of the committee and the bill's primary sponsor, assured Werk that the bill would not indemnify schools from liabilities involving firearms. After considerable dialog on the issue, McKenzie stated "Sen. Werk, I cannot help you further with my attempt to help you in your understanding."
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman," Werk replied. "Thank you for your attempt to help. I'm still not there yet."
"Yes, we can tell you're not there," McKenzie said in reply.
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, stated to Moore "this is a hard question, but I have to ask it because I've had several constituents ask me. If you have a student who is possessing a firearm and an incident occurs on campus and that person with a firearm inadvertently shoots the wrong person, are you comfortable with that?"
"I understand the concern, but I can’t address that scenario specifically," Moore replied. "What I can tell you is that we're talking here about a constitutionally protected right, and it is a right that protects more than it hurts."
Werk and Stennett were the two votes opposing the legislation.