Election Central

Balukoff pans Otter’s approval of guns on campus, NRA says college will be safer

Democrat A.J. Balukoff says GOP Gov. Butch Otter erred Wednesday in signing a bill allowing some students and retired law enforcement officers to carry guns on Idaho’s eight public college and university campuses.

“It was totally unnecessary and I think the process to pass that was just as flawed as the bill,” Balukoff said at a Statehouse news conference after a short speech marking his official filing as a candidate for governor.

“I support Second Amendment rights,” Balukoff added, but he said opposition from all the higher education presidents and a State Board of Education appointed by Otter should have been heeded.

Without naming him, Balukoff criticized the bill’s lead sponsor, Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa. As he presided in the Senate hearing on the bill, McKenzie designated an NRA lobbyist to open testimony on the bill and declined to hear from some several police chiefs from college towns who opposed the bill, including Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson.

“When the committees don’t take the time to listen to the concerns of the university presidents, the chiefs of police and the state Board of Education, that’s not inclusive,” Balukoff said. “It’s not considering all the ramifications that bill will do and it’s also an unfunded mandate to our colleges and universities who are already struggling to make ends meet.”

Balukoff offered no credit to House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, who held a seven-hour hearing and listened to all comers.

In praising the bill’s passage, the NRA called the measure a “vital step toward protecting students and faculty.”

Said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s institute for Legislative Action: “Sadly, we are reminded by headlines that our college campuses are often targeted by soulless and deranged criminals seeking to inflict carnage on as many innocent victims as they can. When these incidents occur, it is vital that our campuses have instant responders. The NRA strongly believes that campus safety will be improved by allowing retired law enforcement personnel and law-abiding people with enhanced carry permits to have their firearms while on university property.”

Cox, in a statement, also praised McKenzie and other supporters for “their commitment to self-defense laws.”

Emily Walton, a leader among students at Boise State who opposed Senate Bill 1254, decried Otter’s refusal to meet personally with students this week and knocked the influence of the NRA. Otter’s staff met Monday with students from several campuses, but the governor himself did not make the meeting.

“We aren’t represented by a D.C. lobbyist, we don’t have the governor’s ear, and we can’t get a meeting with him,” said Walton in a news release. “What should we have done differently? Who should we talk to so that next time we can be consulted about weapons in our classroom before a bill is pushed through? What other legislation will be imported to Idaho at the expense of students who understand that classrooms are different spaces with different purposes than the public square?”

In a letter explaining his thinking on signing the bill, Otter wrote that the state “must appropriately and carefully monitor, oversee and manage” the “difficulties and costs” cited by those with “significant and heartfelt concerns” about the bill. SB 1254 takes effect July 1. It allows those aged 21 and over to carry guns on campus, after completing concealed weapons training.

Otter said he took an oath to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution, “not only when doing so is easy, convenient and without cost, but especially when it is not.”

Otter’s primary challenger, Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, was absent Feb. 18 when the Senate passed SB 1254. Fulcher’s designated substitute voted for the bill.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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Posted in Election Central, Idaho Politics