Patterson postscript: How did politicians get exempted from Idaho’s weapons law?

There’s been a good deal of commentary questioning why Idaho exempts more than 3,000 elected officials from the rigors of the state’s concealed weapons license process.

The flap was prompted by last week’s news that Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, can continue to carry despite having his license revoked for failing to disclose his 1974 guilty plea for assault with intent to commit rape.

Outrage about the double standard spans the spectrum, from MSNBC’s left-winger Rachel Maddow to the gun-rights website The Truth About Guns.

But the exemption for legislators and other state officials is more than a century old.

Still, rumors fly. One holds the 1990 Legislature added “any publicly elected Idaho official” to the list of exemptions to protect a couple of sitting lawmakers who wouldn’t have passed newly established criminal background checks.

Nonsense, says former GOP Sen. Denton Darrington of Declo, who spent 30 years in the Senate before retiring last year. Darrington was the longtime chairman of the Judiciary Committee which rewrote the original 1909 law in 1990, establishing a procedure for sheriffs to issue licenses.

“I have no recollection of any comment or discussion of that,” Darrington said. “That seems totally out of synch with my thinking and how I would act. I don’t even know of any legislators who carried in those days. There probably were some, but I don’t know.”

Darrington’s partner on Senate Bill 1535 was Senate Minority Leader Bruce Sweeney, D-Lewiston, who died in 2009.

“The reason Bruce Sweeney and I got messed up in this is the fact a lot of people who could pass background checks and had nothing on their records were being denied and couldn’t get a concealed weapons permit,” Darrington told me. “That’s why it says in the first section the sheriff ‘shall’ issue the permit.”

The 1990 law is six pages long, replacing earlier one-page statutes. While removing sheriffs’ discretion, the law added a list of prohibitions that made applicants ineligible. Among those are a felony record, illegal immigration status, mental illness and drug addiction. In Rep. Patterson’s case, Sheriff Gary Raney revoked his permit because Patterson failed to disclose he had a withheld judgment in Florida for assault with intent to commit rape. Thanks to the exemption Patterson can still carry in Idaho as long as he remains in office, but he’s lost reciprocal rights in 29 other states.

Other provisions added in 1990 included a fingerprint requirement and state and national criminal records checks, license renewal after five years and the revocation process employed in Patterson’s case, including an administrative hearing.

The 1990 rewrite expanded the list of exemptions. Newly specified as exempt were: city officials; employees of the state military division; criminal investigators in the offices of prosecuting attorneys and the attorney general; hunters, fishers and trappers outside city limits; and retired peace officers and detention deputies.

Finally, the phrase “any publicly elected Idaho official,” was added. In the case of legislators, the provision was redundant. The original 1909 law exempted “officials of a county, officials of the State of Idaho, officials of the United States, peace officers, guards of any jail (and) any officer of any express company on duty.” That language remains.

But the new “any publicly elected official” language exempted hundreds of local officials elected to govern districts operating schools, local highways, sewers, water systems and other special districts.

KBOI-Channel 2′s Scott Logan had an excellent story covering much of this ground on Nov. 12, as he tried to unearth the thinking behind the exemption. But he failed to find the rationale. “We know the concealed weapons permit law does not apply to publicly elected officials in Idaho, but the reason why may be lost in time,” concluded Logan.

Maddow used a clip from Logan in her Nov. 13 piece that flayed Patterson and the exemption for elected officials. “The guy gets to keep his guns!” she raged. “How can this possibly be?”

Asked whether an exemption for public officials that originated in 1909 still makes sense, Darrington said, “I guess. I don’t have a problem with it.”

In short, a review of the origin and evolution of the law bolsters Darrington’s case that he and Sweeney weren’t protecting pals with dark pasts. The exemption that covers legislators dates to 1909, not 1990. To see for yourself, check out links to four iterations of the law, now known as Idaho Code 18-3302:

First, the original House Bill 62, passed in 1909. The law included fines of up to $200 and up to 60 days in jail, but said “it shall be a good defense to the charge of carrying such concealed weapons if the defendant shall show that he has been threatened with great bodily harm, or had good reason to carry the same in the necessary defense of his person, family, home or property.”

Second, a 1972 amendment adding the provision for sheriffs to issue permits to applicants “satisfying the necessity therefor.”

Third, a 1988 amendment that added “court appointed attendants” to the list of exempt persons.

And fourth, the current law, 18-3302.

My gratitude to Kristin Ford, the Legislature’s librarian, for schooling me on the history. Said Darrington: “I never argue with Kristin.”


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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