The Four-Year Rickety Road to Permitless Carry in Idaho : How the People of Idaho MADE it Happen.

© Alexandria Kincaid, Attorney

One rainy morning four years ago, I walked out of Boise’s largest gun shop to find two gentlemen standing in front of the store, clipboards in hand, requesting signatures on a petition.  The petition was to request that Idaho citizens support a permitless carry law.  That was the first time I met Greg Pruett, and I offered my help with his endeavor.

Idaho is known as a gun friendly state with many, if not most, residents owning at least one firearm.  If a law-abiding citizen can own a gun, shouldn’t that person also be allowed to carry it without requesting special government permission?  After all, the United States Supreme Court has confirmed that the Second Amendment protects our individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense purposes.  Having a firearm in your home is helpful, but the ability to protect yourself outside your home where the criminals and terrorists lurk seems pretty basic to most gun owners.

But instead of “legal to own, legal to carry” laws, Idaho has clung to a special permitting process for law abiding gun owners who wish to carry a legal firearm tucked under a shirt or jacket.  The law requires basic training, imposes conditions on age and background, and requires an Idaho Sheriff’s stamp of approval, UNLESS, you are one of the few Idahoans who fall into the law’s exception to this general permitting process.  You see, the politicians who passed Idaho’s concealed carry law also wrote themselves out of the law – any city, county, state, or publicly elected Idaho officials are immune and may completely bypass the need to jump through the permitting hoop.

Greg Pruett, a native Idahoan, decided to change that.  Greg, a military veteran who served over 13 years until he was forced into medical retirement after a tour in Iraq, explained to me that in 2012, he had learned that other states (Vermont, Alaska, Arizona and Wyoming) already had permitless carry. Greg, along with thousands of other Idahoans, believes Idaho should lead the nation in gun rights rather than follow.

In an effort to unite Idaho gun owners to change the law, Greg organized the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance, a grassroots gun rights organization that would answer to no one outside the state.  Since its inception in 2012, the ISAA has grown to over tens of thousands of supporters across Idaho. The ISAA has beaten back dozens of illegal ordinances, defeated anti-gun legislation, and led the fight for permitless carry in Idaho.

Part of the fight for permitless carry has been an educational endeavor.  The public and the politicians need to understand that permitless carry does not allow criminals or the mentally ill to carry a firearm.  It also does not eliminate the permitting process – it simply makes the permit optional.  The permitless carry law only affects law abiding gun owners by granting them permission to carry their legal firearms with them outside of their homes and relieving them of the onerous and outdated concealed carry restrictions.  Greg Pruett correctly calls the law an “under the coat” law, because it simply allows law-abiding citizens to lawfully carry their firearms concealed, as in “under a coat.”  This is why law enforcement officials generally support permitless carry laws.  In fact, the Idaho Sheriff’s Association and the Fraternal Order of Police chose to support Idaho’s permitless carry bill in 2016.

Permitless carry also does not necessarily eliminate the state permitting process.  The way Idaho’s permitless carry law is written, people who want a permit can still get one.  Permits are useful for reciprocity purposes, so you can still carry concealed when you travel to other states.  The permist are also still useful for bypassing the NICS background check when buying a gun from a dealer.

Permitless carry protects law-abiding citizens, as it eliminates one of the many legal traps for gun owners:  Concealed carry laws frequently impose arbitrary, geographical boundaries on where a law-abiding citizen can and cannot carry a firearm. Do you know where a city’s limit starts and stops?   If you carry a firearm in Idaho concealed, you may do so without a permit outside of city limits.  If you cross the line into a city, your firearm is still concealed, and you do not have a permit under the current law, you can be charged with a misdemeanor. In this way, concealed carry laws, as well as laws surrounding what firearms can be lawfully possessed and how they can be transported, create a huge pitfall for Americans who have no intention of violating a law, but who inadvertently wind up criminals because they carry their firearm the wrong way or into the wrong place.  I routinely help these Americans in my practice, because they have broken a law such as carrying a firearm the wrong way or carrying the wrong type of firearm in a place where they were not allowed to do so.  These laws are traps for the unwary and otherwise law-abiding gun owners.

The first year Greg proposed permitless carry in Idaho, he took his idea to Idaho’s “pro-gun” legislators.  Greg told me that he learned the hard way that the Idaho politicians, who enjoy an elite status where they do not need a government permit to carry a concealed weapon, didn’t really seem to care that the rest of Idahoans didn’t want to ask government permission either.  The ISAA gathered 3,000 signatures that first year to make permitless carry a reality for the rest of the state. Despite the public’s clear desire to change the law, the politicians instead focused their efforts on passing more gun-related restrictions, including a more stringent permitting process.

“I think we were very naive the first year we went to the capitol. We approached legislators who refused to listen to us.  We tried to play nice and do as they wanted us to do.  We essentially played the game the way they wanted it to be played.”  This game playing, according to Greg, got him absolutely nowhere with the legislation.

The second year the ISAA proposed the permitless carry legislation, Greg saw no improvement.  “We played nice again. We were told once again that we needed to come back next year. We were told that it was an election year and that big bills are generally frowned upon during an election year.  It was “next year” all over again.  We were beginning to understand that the process does not help the people and it isn’t about the people, it’s about the power the politicians hold and their unwillingness to relinquish it.”

Greg finally realized that playing the game the politicians’ way was not going to work, ever. Politicians who tout themselves as pro-gun are not necessarily pro-Second Amendment.

The third year of proposing permitless carry, Greg chose not to play the game, and instead, simply introduced the bill on his own.  “After our print hearing, we thought we were on our way.  But no sooner had we had introduced it and the Speaker of the House and the Secret Gun Committee put a stop to it. So that was that.  They opposed it and so it went nowhere.”

What is the “secret gun committee”?  According to Greg Pruett, it is a secret group of politicians living in the Idaho statehouse.  The group has been called “the secret gun committee” and is an unofficial committee in the Idaho legislature composed of members of the Senate and House that determine what gun bills will go forward. If the committee does not like a firearms related bill, they kill it behind closed doors:  no public vote, no accountability, no public record of the committee at all.  If you think this sounds illegal and contrary to the way Americans are supposed to be represented in the statehouse, you’re not alone.  Greg relayed to me that the “secret gun committee” is the epitome of everything Americans hate about government: it provides political cover for those in the legislature who don’t care for pro-gun measures.

In 2016, Idaho witnessed an extravaganza of chaos surrounding permitless carry unlike anything before.  It would take four new and different permitless carry bills, all proposed in the same legislative session by different players, to get to one that would not impose further restrictions on gun owners, but would actually restore gun rights Idaho.  The bill has passed both houses, and awaits the Governor’s signature.  If the Governor signs it or does not veto it within five days after its presentation to him, the bill will become law and effective on July 1, 2016.

Greg Pruett is quick not to take credit for the permitless carry in Idaho.  Instead, he points to the power of the people. “When the people rise up, make their voices heard, and threaten these guys’ jobs, they tend to listen. If they don’t feel like they are going to lose an election for their stance, then they don’t care.  So the people are really what made all of this possible.”

If you are inspired by the ISAA, Greg has some advice for you: “There can’t be compromise. YOU have to get the people involved and you can’t play the games that the legislators want you to play. They will try to demean you into submission. Then they may try to butter you up so you will compromise.  You demand the best from them and expect nothing less.  You have the people on your side and that is all you need.  Find state organizations who have boots on the ground and a much better pulse on the gun owners of their respective states and join the fight!”