Between 600 and 700 people gathered Feb. 20 at the Idaho State Capitol to show their support for gun rights and hear Second Amendment advocates take aim at what is stalling a hearing in the Legislature for "permitless" or "constitutional carry" of firearms.
If passed, House Bill 422
would allow Idahoans over the age of 21 to carry deadly weapons, either openly or concealed, without a license—provided they are allowed to possess such weapons by current statute. The bill now sits in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Greg Pruett, of the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance, told the crowd it is unacceptable the bill hasn't yet received a public hearing, noting dozens of education bills are currently active in the Legislature, but HB422 has seemingly ground to a halt in committee.
"I'm not opposed to education, but how about the right for you to carry a firearm however you see fit?"
Both chambers of the Legislature and Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter are Republican, but according to Idaho Freedom Foundation Executive Director Wayne Hoffman, that doesn't mean the legislative process in the Gem State is guided by the conservative principles he said would ease the passage of permitless carry.
"Why should the politicians in the state of Idaho deny us that privilege?" he said.
However, support for the bill among rally attendees wasn't absolute. Some had reservations about the 21-and-over age limit, with some saying the bill delayed citizens' right to keep and bear arms.
Rich Chaney, who was working at the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance booth, said if the bill were to become law, Idaho citizens would be "old enough to serve in the military but not old enough to carry," but also said the bill's sponsors had been receptive to that argument and he was optimistic about the prospects of an amended version.
One demonstrator, who would only identify himself as "Anthony" and carried a sign that read "Sever the Tentacles of Government," said even an unamended bill would be a "step in the right direction." He hoped the bill will at least get a public hearing.
"I'll testify on behalf if they give this a chance," he said.
"In my opinion, the right to keep and bear arms, the reason that they gave it to us, was to be able to give people the ultimate and final ability to preserve liberty," he added.
Eric Hughes brought his family to the rally, along with a Confederate battle flag and version of the Gadsden "Don't Tread on Me" flag. He said "any constitutional issue makes [him] passionate," and that when it comes to guns, "the people know their best interests."
He acknowledged some people might find the so-called "Stars and Bars" flag—flown by the Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War—offensive, but they should "learn about history."
"That flag wasn't raised so states could just keep slaves," he said. "Even though [the Confederates] didn't win their fight, they fought their fight."
Speaker Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said there are elements of the gun debate that may be offensive to some, but guns have been part of the national conversation from the beginning. During his address to rally goers, Pratt described a picture hanging in his office depicting Puritans arriving in the New World with guns and bibles. He accused American media of relegating Christianity and Second Amendment rights to the sidelines.
"This is a conversation that's not politically correct to talk about," he said.
Citing recent shooting incidents and a handful of instances in which armed citizens have stopped violent crimes, he said expanding gun rights has immediate public safety implications.
"Bad guys don't usually wait for the cops to get there before they start doing bad stuff," he said.