Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter is scheduled to testify next week before a legislative committee considering a bill that would guarantee the rights of people to carry handguns on college campuses. Gunter said he is opposed to the bill.
The bill was passed by the Idaho Senate on Feb. 18 and has been referred to the House State Affairs Committee. Gunter is scheduled to speak before the committee on Thursday, March 6.
An unusual situation exists at the Community Campus in Hailey, where the College of Southern Idaho rents space from the Blaine County School District. The building also 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.
The same situation exists at CSI’s Gooding campus, which is at the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind, and at Meridian High School, where Idaho State University leases space.
Under state and federal law, students are prohibited from carrying guns on school property.
Gunter said he will point out to the committee that passage of the proposed bill would create conflicting laws.
“I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment,” he said, “but I’m not in support of guns being on high school campuses.”
Doug Maughan, CSI’s public relations director, said college administrators hope to claim exemption to the bill’s requirements for the Hailey and Gooding facilities. However, he said, they are concerned that CSI may be asked to leave those premises if the bill becomes law.
CSI Public Safety Director James Ellington said campus security officers do not carry guns. He said he talked to the Twin Falls Police Department last week about providing an increased presence on the campus if the bill becomes law, and will probably have a similar conversation with Gunter.
“We believe the bill endangers more people than it protects,” Ellington said.
CSI President Jeff Fox said at a trustees meeting Monday that if the bill passes, the college will have to spend about $150,000 per year to hire part-time armed security guards at its campuses.
The Senate State Affairs Committee came under criticism two weeks ago when a two-and-a-half-hour hearing was closed before law enforcement officers had a chance to testify. Gunter said he has been assured that the House committee hearing will remain open until everyone who wishes to has testified.
After being denied a chance to speak before the Senate committee, Boise Police Chief Michael Masterson spoke at a press conference in Boise. He called the bill “a solution in search of a nonexistent problem.”
“A far greater probability, as often seen through the media in headlines, is the immediate availability of a gun used in a highly emotional, angry response in a personal dispute,” he said. “And with that use comes the probability that innocents could be injured or killed. …
“The other concern is how retired or off-duty police officers will react in a classroom of 275 students identifying a good gun and bad gun in a crisis situation that involves split-second decisions. … If a gun was produced, how in the world do you tell who’s the good gun?”