Idaho House Bill No. 122 – Is Arming More Teachers the Right Move?

Stephen M. McCook

A bill currently working its way through the Idaho Legislature
would change the way our local school boards can deal with the issue of armed employees on school grounds.

A separate provision in the bill would end the use of the term
“gun-free zone” when referring to our K-12 public-schools. Should House Bill 122 become law, all public school district employees in the State of Idaho would be free to carry a concealed weapon while at work, assuming of course they can
do so in accordance with state law and possess a valid enhanced carry permit.

This bill would in effect give the individual employee the decision on whether to carry a firearm. This authority currently rests with the elected school board members for any
given district, with many districts in the state already allowing teachers to arm themselves to better protect students in the event of an active shooter scenario.

Representative Chad Christensen (R), who represents District 32 in southeast Idaho is the primary sponsor of this legislation.

Amending Chapter 33 of the Idaho Code to allow school district employees the right to be armed while on the job has long been a pet-project for Rep. Christensen, as House
Bill 122 marks his third attempt to pass such legislation.

Proponents of the bill, like Rep. Christensen, said in House testimony, “This is a bill about school safety and our children…” and that he didn’t want to see any school in Idaho become the next “Parkland or Sandy Hook”, two recent instances of great tragedy involving children being murdered at school.

Representative Aaron von Ehlinger (R), who represents District 6, which includes Lewiston testified that he considers not being armed in the classroom a “dereliction of duty” because he would be unable to protect the children if a shooter were to appear.
In addition to his duties as a legislature, he also serves as a substitute teacher for the schools in Nez Perce County.

The idea of having armed teachers roaming the school is not nearly as politically controversial in Idaho as it is in other parts of the country.

Even though the House vote on the bill broke almost exclusively along party lines, much of the push back stemmed from concerns over local vs. state control, teacher training requirements, and the bills language over a teacher’s “duty”, not the outright opposition of the teachers right to carry a firearm.

Representative Chris Mathias (D) from Boise – District 19, pointed out “Our school districts already have the ability to authorize school employees to carry firearms on school grounds…” and said that this issue was best left up to the local
school districts and not the politicians at the state level.

He also questioned the need for a bill that made no requirement for an armed teacher to engage with an actives shooter, “The bill’s design is to create opportunities where a good guy with a gun can stop the bad guy with the gun, but if weapon holders don’t have a duty to perform as our law enforcement officers do, what’s the point of exposing our children to all the risk?”

Concerns about the issue of teacher proficiency were on the mind of Representative Marc Gibbs of District 32, who claims “to have never met a gun he didn’t like!”. He worries that the enhanced carry permit benchmarks are not enough
to determine whether one is “truly
proficient” with a firearm but rather only demonstrates that you can load/unload a weapon and pull the trigger ninety times.

Representative Lance Clow (R) of Twin Falls – District 24 expressed his opposition to the removal of the gun-free signs as he thought this could cause confusion amongst the public and he did not want to inadvertently send the message that everyone was welcome to bring their guns onto school property.

The 2021 legislative session marked the first time that this bill
has made it out of the State Affairs Committee, clearing this hurdle on March 10th, and onto the floor of the Idaho House for a full up or down vote. The House voted to pass the measure on March 11th, with a vote of 52 in favor and 18 against.

After approval by the House, the bill was sent to the Senate where it currently sits pending further action. As of this writing, the legislature is adjourned until April 6th, 2021 due to an outbreak of COVID-19 amongst several legislators and staff members.

I encourage all my fellow Warriors to use the find my legislature tool at https://legislature.idaho.gov/legislators/whosmylegislator/
and reach out with your messages of support or opposition to House Bill 122. The decisions that our legislators make today will have a big impact on your future, so make your
voices heard.