Friday, February 21, 2014

Campus gun bill draws concern

CSI leases space from School District

Express Staff Writer

     The status of College of Southern Idaho’s Hailey campus under a guns-on-campus bill quickly moving through the Legislature remains unclear.

     Senate Bill 1254 would guarantee the rights of students with enhanced concealed-weapons permits to carry handguns on campus. The bill was passed by the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 25-10 and has been referred to the House State Affairs Committee. Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, voted against it.

     CSI now prohibits possession of firearms, explosives and other weapons on college premises and at college-sponsored activities.

     The issue is complicated in Blaine County by the fact that CSI leases its classrooms at the Community Campus from the Blaine County School District. Under state and federal law, students are prohibited from carrying guns on school property.

     In addition to hosting CSI and seven other entities, the building houses Wood River High School’s technical education classroom and its construction academy. That mixture means it has elements of a college campus and of a public school.

     “There’s a lot of muddy water here,” district Interim Superintendent John Blackman said. “From everything I’ve heard so far, I have no clarification on it. There are a couple of other campuses in the state that are in the same situation.”

     Phil Homer, a former Blaine County School District superintendent and now a lobbyist for the Idaho Association of School Administrators, said the issue was not raised during the committee hearing.

“There’s a lot of muddy water here.”

John Blackman, Blaine County School District

     The bill would apply primarily to students 21 and over. Under state law, sheriff’s offices must issue licenses to carry concealed weapons, which include all deadly weapons except rifles and shotguns, to any applicant over 21 not covered by a list of exclusions. Those include felons, people convicted of a violent misdemeanor within the past three years and the mentally ill or mentally incapacitated.

     A sheriff may issue a license to an applicant between 18 and 21 “who in the judgment of the sheriff warrants the issuance of the license.” Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey said he had never issued a license to anyone under 21, though people have applied.

     “They have to demonstrate a clear and viable reason for having a concealed weapon, not just wanting one,” he said.

     The bill also applies only to people who have an “enhanced” concealed-weapons license, which requires at least eight hours of weapons training taught by a certified instructor.

     The bill prohibits carrying concealed weapons in dorms or entertainment facilities.

     Ramsey said he has conflicting points of view about the bill. He said he supports people’s right to self-defense and he thinks gun-free zones are an invitation to violent criminals. However, he said, the bill could create problems for law-enforcement officers.

     “It’s going to make our job much tougher when we respond,” he said. “I do have concerns that if we have unknown people on campus with a gun, that’s going to place extra burdens on us and it’s really going to confuse the situation.”

     CSI President Jeff Fox was among all eight of Idaho’s public college and university presidents who expressed opposition to the bill during a news conference in Boise on Feb. 4.

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