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Idaho House quickly votes to repeal anti-militia law

The front of the Idaho Capitol building showing the bell and stairs. Two people are standing on the left-hand side.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Idaho House lawmakers voted Wednesday to repeal one of the state’s main anti-militia laws after less than 10 minutes of debate.

Right now, state law prohibits groups other than the Idaho National Guard from organizing as a militia or from parading in public while armed.

State military officials said that the law should be repealed, calling it outdated and potentially unconstitutional. They also have the blessing of Gov. Brad Little’s office, which gave initial approval to the proposal.

“Peaceable assembly cannot be restricted,” said Rep. Joe Palmer (R-Meridian), the lead sponsor of the bill.

“It’s antiquated legislation that no longer needs to be in effect, so I think we should be able to remove it without a problem,” he said.

But similar laws in other states have been found to be constitutional. In Virginia, for example, an anti-extremist legal group at Georgetown Law successfully sued a Pennsylvania militia for its role in a deadly Charlottesville rally in 2017.

That same legal group sent a letter to Idaho lawmakers warning of the consequences of passing the bill.

Rep. John Gannon (D-Boise) was the only lawmaker to debate the measure Wednesday.

“This is not the time to repeal this law,” Gannon said.

He pointed to examples like the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and past violence in Idaho, including the assassination of former Gov. Frank Steunenberg in the early 20th century.

Idaho’s constitution does ban private militias and other laws criminalizing paramilitary activities.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!