By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The Senate State Affairs Committee moved a bill forward Monday that would allow militias to parade in public with firearms.
Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, sponsored Senate Bill 1056, stressing that all gun laws would still apply to anyone parading with a gun.
The bill would repeal a section of code that prohibits anyone other than the National Guard to parade with firearms and prohibits cities or towns from paying to arm or organize any militia.
Legislators repeatedly referenced incidents in Lewiston, when armed protesters attended a Black Lives Matter protest, and another incident in Coeur d’Alene.
Foreman argued the current statute infringes on the constitutional rights to assemble and to bear arms.
“I understand full and well, being a retired police officer, that many people have an innate adverse reaction to the presence of firearms,” Foreman told the committee. “Firearms scare some people. I understand that. They don’t own them, they don’t use them, they have no use for them. That’s fine, but we cannot deny people their Second Amendment rights out of fear.”
Testimony came mostly from people in opposition to the bill, including some people who had been victims of gun violence.
“We have in place an established, authorized, professional militia unit in the Idaho National Guard to serve and protect Idaho citizens,” said Marsha Bravo, who testified in opposition. “This bill would repeal Idaho’s law which prohibits Idaho militias and restricts them. It removes language that has been in place since 1927, in essence the very language that has served to protect Idaho from extremist groups.”
In his closing presentation, Foreman criticized use of the term “gun violence.”
“That’s an emotional statement. There is no such thing as gun violence,” Foreman said. “There is violence, and violence is committed by people, not the gun, not the weapon, not the baseball bat or the knife or the bow and arrow. It’s committed by people.”
He argued that a large percentage of Idaho is already legally armed with firearms.
Sen. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, said it’s one thing when the U.S. military trains with firearms, but when it’s the neo-Nazis, that’s a different story.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this. I cannot believe it,” Ruchti said. “We are sending a message to militias: free reign, have at it, start training. We’re sending a message to hate groups to show up in our communities and share your message with us under arms. Bring your weapons.”
Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, responded to Ruchti’s comments saying, “I know that he’s not suggesting that I support neo-Nazis or that I am sending message to anybody.”
Instead, Anthon argued the section of code being repealed is outdated. He said last year, the Idaho National Guard tried to repeal the same section of code because the Guard felt it was ineffective.
“I disagree with regard to the statute,” said Anthon. “The current statute is a mess. It’s a relic, and we’ve heard testimony today – from those who oppose – that it hasn’t prevented the kinds of behavior they don’t like. We’ve heard testimony that they have been intimidated by groups of people with firearms. We’ll, supposedly this statute would have prevented that. It doesn’t.”
The bill passed on a party-line vote and must now go before the full Senate for a vote.