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Guns-in-schools bills won’t move this legislative session

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Posted at 3:13 PM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 17:13:21-04

BOISE, Idaho — This article was written by Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News.

Two competing guns-in-schools bills will not get a hearing in the waning days of the 2021 legislative session.

“This session’s over,” Senate State Affairs Committee Chair Patti Anne Lodge, R-Caldwell, told Idaho Education News. “I am not having another committee hearing.”

In an interview Friday — one day after a shooting at Rigby Middle School, which left two students and a school custodian injured — Lodge emphasized the need to train teachers and school staff so they know how to respond to a crisis. And on Thursday, Rigby’s training worked, Lodge said; a teacher was able to disarm and detain the suspect, female sixth-grader, until officers could arrive on the scene.

Senate State Affairs is the focal point of this session’s edition of the guns-in-schools debate. Lodge is holding two bills in committee:

  • House Bill 122, proposed by Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona, would allow any staff member with an enhanced concealed weapons permit to carry on school grounds. The bill passed the House on March 11 on a 52-18 vote. It was assigned to Senate State Affairs, where it has not received a hearing.
  • Senate Bill 1135, drafted by the Idaho Association of School Administrators and the Idaho School Boards Association at Lodge’s urging, builds on existing guns-in-schools law. As it stands now, districts and charter schools can allow employees to carry on school grounds, and several do. SB 1135 emphasizes the need for training for employees who carry on school grounds, and emphasizes coordination between school employees and local law enforcement. Senate State Affairs discussed the bill on March 3, but it has been on hold ever since.

There is no easy path to consensus on the guns-in-schools issue.
Debating for his bill, Christensen has said Second Amendment rights should not end at the schoolhouse steps. Groups such as ISBA believe the decision to arm school staff should be made locally.

Meanwhile, law enforcement groups opposed SB 1135, Lodge said, preferring to see more school resource officers on campus. And Lodge said she has received thousands of emails from parents, saying they don’t want to see more guns in schools, period.

Four months into the session, the tension between Lodge and Christensen is evident.

While Christensen has improved his guns-in-schools bill since first introducing it in 2019, Lodge said he would have to agree to amendments to get the bill out of committee. She says she never heard back.

“I think he’s doing it politically and he’s not doing it in the best interest of the kids,” she said.

Christensen took to his Facebook page Thursday, shortly after news broke of the Rigby shooting. He pointed out that his bill is still in Lodge’s committee.

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“For all those that have stood in the way of my school carry bill, shame on you. You know who you are!” Christensen wrote. “If you are mad at me for using this to push my bill, I don’t care. I would rather prevent this from happening again and save lives.”

The 2021 session is not yet over. Lawmakers will reconvene Wednesday after a six-day recess. And while Christensen pushed Thursday for a hearing on his bill, it is up to Lodge to decide whether to reconvene Senate State Affairs.

In an interview Thursday, Rep. Karey Hanks didn’t directly discuss this session’s guns-in-schools debate. But Hanks — a St. Anthony Republican who represents Rigby in the Legislature — said she would like to see the Legislature revisit the issue.

“I will preface this by saying I think we need more information,” Hanks told EdNews, “but I hope this will encourage us to re-examine allowing our teachers to be armed in schools.”

Hanks, a school bus driver, supported HB 122 in committee and on the House floor. If bus drivers can carry weapons, she said, they could be able to better protect students.

On Thursday, Rigby teachers handled the active shooter situation properly, Lodge said. They told kids to turn off lights and computers and line up against classroom walls. For the retired teacher, it reminded Lodge of what she had do after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting — holding drills to teach students to play dead, or flee a building by running away in a zigzag pattern.

“That’s the kind of stuff I was doing 20 years ago,” she said.

Idaho Education News reporter Blake Jones contributed to this report.