Idaho students have mixed views on new campus gun law

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Starting July 1, Idaho's public college students can pack more than just homework and pencils to class - those with enhanced concealed-carry permits will be allowed to carry guns.

Gov. C.L "Butch" Otter signed into law last month the controversial measure that allows retired law enforcement and those with the permits to bring firearms onto public college and university campuses. The law bans guns in dormitories, concert halls and stadiums holding more than 1,000 people. The measure was opposed by heads of all eight of the state's public college presidents.

Local college students have mixed views about the new law.

"I feel law enforcement, the military and people like that should be allowed to have concealed weapons, but as far as the school environment, I don't think anyone should have concealed weapons," said Josh Sayer, a pharmacy student at Idaho State University's Idaho Falls satellite campus. "There's just no way to really tell who's going to be responsible."

Ryan Wassom, a Web development student at Eastern Idaho Technical College, feels differently.

"I think people who get super freaked out about it are just not informed about the benefits," he told the Post Register. "All they think is that it's going to increase crime. But if you look at the states that don't allow this, the crime is much higher than the states that do."

However, the 2004 book "Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review," from the National Academy of Sciences concluded that "despite a large body of research, the committee found no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime."

EITC President Steve Albiston is among those who opposed the measure, in part because he felt concealed weapons aren't conducive to the learning environment.

"I don't like the idea of working in an environment when there's potentially a bunch of people packing firearms," Albiston said in February.

EITC officials plan to finalize its policies around the new law and distribute them to students sometime in the next couple months, according to James Stratton, vice president of finance and administration.

Idaho State University said in a March news release the university is working with the State Board of Education to develop "policies and security measures" to take effect July 1. Its current firearms policy, which bans guns on campus, will remain in effect until then, according to the news release.

Proponents of the new law argue it protects Second Amendment rights to carry firearms. Wassom also thinks the new measure would help prevent school shootings.

"If a perpetrator knows someone in the vicinity has a firearm, I don't think they're going to be too apt to go to a place like that," Wassom said. "It's been proven in many situations that even just the sight of a firearm to a criminal can stop a situation. And in that situation, if someone comes and starts to shoot people, wouldn't you want somebody in the classroom to have the ability to stop that person or at least attempt to do so?"

ISU-Idaho Falls pharmacy student Melanie Ball thinks requirements for an enhanced carry permit are too readily met. The enhanced permit requires an individual to complete an eight-hour training course consisting of firing a minimum of 98 rounds, instruction on self-defense principles, instruction on basic concepts of the safe use of handguns and instruction on Idaho firearms law conducted by a law enforcement officer or a state bar-certified lawyer.

Ball said many people in her family hold permits - and she trusts them because they take additional safety measures - which other permit-holders might not.

"I'm fine with my dad having a firearm, but I'm not fine with Joe Blow off the street having one," she said. "I don't know how responsible they are. It's been drilled into our heads since we were little - this is how you take care of a firearm; this is the instance when you do need to use a firearm. And there are people walking around (with permits) who haven't done any of that. They just think it's cool."

Wassom agrees the course alone doesn't necessarily provide enough training.

"It's like anything - if you want to prepare yourself for something, you're going to learn, research and practice," he said. "When there's someone who has the mentality of wanting to possess a weapon legally and carry a weapon legally, I don't know anyone who thinks that way and just doesn't care. I know there may be people out there but a person responsible with the permit is going to take it above and beyond."