Idaho State Senator Pushing For Guns On University Campuses Says It's A Basic Right

Feb 24, 2014

Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa.
Credit Scott Graf / Boise State Public Radio

On one corner of Curt McKenzie’s desk at the Idaho Capitol sit three candy jars. On the opposite corner - an Army green ammunition box.

McKenzie is the Republican state senator from Nampa who introduced a controversial bill that would allow some people to carry guns on Idaho’s college campuses. The bill has passed the Senate and is now in the House.

“It’s a constitutional right that we have,” McKenzie says. “And even beyond that, it is the most basic right of a person to be able to defend themselves.”

Retired police and anyone 21 or older who’s completed the state’s enhanced concealed carry training course would legally be allowed to carry a gun on any of Idaho's college or university campuses. The bill excludes dorms and venues where more than 1,000 people gather.

A similar bill died in the Senate in 2011.  McKenzie is confident the latest proposal will become law, and that it’s constitutional.

“It is not appropriate for government to violate your constitutional rights, whether it’s university administrators, or other government actors,” he says. “[To carry] is a basic constitutional right. It’s been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.”

But opponents – including the State Board of Education and all eight of Idaho’s university and college presidents – say guns would make campuses more dangerous. Idaho stands to become the seventh state in the U.S. to allow guns on its campuses.

“The government cannot guarantee our safety," says McKenzie. "We already have carry in the rest of society. [The law] will not significantly change campus life, but it will make those who want to go through the process of getting that enhanced carry license, or who have been a retired law enforcement officer – give them the opportunity to carry if they have the desire.”

Idaho State University says it could have to end nuclear research on its campus if the bill becomes law. On Friday, Boise State officials said implementing the new law would cost the school more than $3.5 million in security upgrades over three years.

McKenzie, though, disputes that notion that more guns require university administrators to make major changes. He says guns on campuses in places like Oregon, Colorado and Utah haven’t created more danger for students.

This interview with Sen. McKenzie aired Monday during Morning Edition. On Tuesday at 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., Boise State University President Bob Kustra will discuss why he opposes the legislation.

Correction: A previous version of this story reported McKenzie sponsored a failed guns-on-campus bill in 2008. The bill he sponsored expanded concealed carry rights, but allowed university administrators to continue regulating guns on their campuses. The bill became law.

Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio