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Idaho House passes bill repealing state law banning groups parading in public with guns

Idaho House In Session
Otto Kitsinger
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The House in session at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Opponents say the bill would legalize or encourage private, unregulated militias

With almost no debate, the Idaho House of Representatives voted nearly along party lines Wednesday to pass a bill repealing a state law banning groups from parading in the streets with firearms.

Rep. Linda Wright Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, joined the Idaho House’s 12 Democrats in voting against House Bill 475.

If passed into law, House Bill 475 would repeal a section of law from 1927 that bans any “body of men” from being able to “parade in public with firearms in any city or town of this state.”

Opponents of the bill have said it would legalize private, unregulated militias, or at least send a message to those groups.

Supporters of the bill say it is an outdated law that clashes with the First Amendment and Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They also said the Idaho Constitution already bans private militias.

Leaders of the Idaho Military Division and Idaho National Guard proposed repealing the law while working to fulfill Gov. Brad Little’s Red Tape Reduction Act executive order, Maj. Steve Stokes said last week. Stokes said the law is antiquated, lacks enforcement powers and is not necessary for the mission of the Idaho National Guard.

Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, sponsored the bill. During a Feb. 16 committee hearing, several Idahoans testified that they are worried repealing the law will lead to people parading through towns and cities, intimidating families from visiting local businesses or parks. Several of them testified that armed groups paraded through Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.

“We were terrified, let’s just be honest,” Coeur d’Alene resident Shawn Keenan told legislators during the Feb. 16 public hearing. “Many folks were not able to come downtown to dine at their favorite establishment or even enjoy our parks for fear of a discharge from one of those weapons for whatever reason, either accidental or through a perceived threat.”

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, was the only legislator to debate against the bill Tuesday. He pointed out that an angry crowd — though not a militia group — disrupted the Idaho Legislature’s 2020 special session, including by breaking a glass door at the Idaho State Capitol and disrupting the House Judiciary, Rule and Administration Committee to the point the committee had to adjourn and its members left the hearing room.

“This is not the time to repeal this law. It should stay on the books, and it has been there for over a century,” Gannon said.

“This isn’t the kind of message I think we want to send,” Gannon added.

The bill’s sponsor said the existing law infringes on Idahoans’ rights.

“Peaceable assembly cannot be restricted,” Palmer said.

To become law, House Bill 475 needs to pass the Idaho Senate and be signed into law by Little or allowed to become law without Little’s signature.