Last night, Idaho Governor Butch Otter signed SB 1254 into law, making Idaho the seventh state in the US to allow concealed weapons on college and university campuses. The law allows anyone with an enhanced concealed weapons permit to carry on campus. However, they are are not allowed to carry in dormitories or in public entertainment facilities. I wonder if I can start holding my classes in Bronco Stadium. But I digress.
From a political science perspective, I find the passage of SB 1254 intriguing on several fronts. First, it is not at all surprising that Republicans in the Idaho state legislature were able to pass this bill through the legislative process so quickly. Idaho is the perfect example of what political parties can accomplish when they have a tight grip on both the executive and legislative branches. Republicans hold about 80% of the seats in both chambers. Idaho also has a Republican governor. In addition, Idaho Republicans tend to be more conservative than the typical Republican in the US. Given that conservative Republicans hold a supermajority in both legislative chambers and hold the governorship, it is quite easy for the Republican Party to push through a piece of conservative legislation quickly through the legislative process. Their control over all veto points essentially nullifies the separation of powers between the branches.
Second, the Idaho state legislature is also a perfect example of how important it is to have a viable second party in the legislative process, if only to slow it down and encourage legislators to take their time in drafting legislation. Even though there were several legitimate arguments against SB 1254, Idaho legislators did not seem to take the time to take them into account. Here is a summary of some of the arguments against the bill:
1. The Idaho state legislature is trying to solve a security problem that does not exist on Idaho campuses.
2. Guns on campus can make it easier for arguments between faculty and students, or between students, to escalate quickly and get out of control.
3. Guns are not permitted in primary and secondary schools. Some Idaho colleges and universities share buildings with these schools. In addition, Boise State invites student groups from around the state to campus for activities throughout the year. How will this affect their ability to take field trips to college campuses?
4. It is unclear how much this bill is going to cost colleges and universities to implement. It could cost millions of dollars to increase security measures and retrain police officers to deal with issues arising with the new bill.
5. Idaho recognizes out of state concealed weapons permits. Would this allow non-Idaho residents to carry weapons on campus?
6. It is unclear how this bill affects whether faculty member can defend themselves on campus.
Despite these arguments, opponents of the bill had no power to stop the legislature from quickly passing this bill. What is disconcerting is Governor Otter's response to signing the bill: "It should be noted… to mitigate potential unintended consequences… the Legislature in particular must appropriately and carefully monitor, manage and oversee those difficulties and costs." Or, in other words, the state legislature is going to wait and see if something unfortunate happens before they modify the law instead of carefully considering and dealing with these potential issues before the law takes effect.
Third, what I find most intriguing about SB 1254 is that the Idaho state legislature is passing this bill to cater to a constituency that gains nothing from it. The people who are most affected by this bill–members of the college and university communities throughout Idaho–strongly oppose this bill. The people who are least affected by this bill–the constituents of state legislators–strongly support it. Clearly the Idaho state legislature is catering to its constituents, who gain nothing from this bill except the satisfaction of reducing gun restrictions, instead of taking into account the security concerns of the members of the college and university communities.
Last, it is important to note that as of today, there are only about 1,100 people in Idaho who hold an enhanced weapons permits. However, the state only introduced enhanced weapons permits last summer, so that number could rise in the future.