Members of the community gather at the city of Uvalde Town Square for a prayer vigil in the wake of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. According to reports, 19 students and 2 adults were killed before the gunman was fatally shot by law enforcement. (Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images)
Growing up in Idaho in the 1950s, it was an article of faith that every youngster was going to get the gun responsibility lecture before being turned loose with a firearm – always assume the piece is loaded, never point a gun at anyone, be aware and respectful of everyone around you and so on. It was stressed that safety and responsibility were inherent parts of the use or ownership of a firearm.
Idahoans relied on customs that were fashioned by our forebearers in Territorial Idaho. Those wise heads knew there was a segment of the population that would ignore gun safety, requiring that rules be put in place to protect the public.
Idaho’s Territorial Legislature enacted a statute in February 1889 making it unlawful for any person, other than on-duty law officers and express company employees, “to carry, exhibit or flourish any dirk, dirk-knife, sword, sword-cane, pistol, gun or other deadly weapons, within the limits or confines of any city, town or village or in any public assembly of Idaho Territory.” Many of the territorial legislators who wrote that law also worked on Idaho’s Constitution the very next year, making it clear that our Constitution allows for strong gun safety restrictions.
Imagine the shock of those presently fleeing to Idaho from progressive states to learn that Idahoans have not always gone to bed at night with an arsenal of deadly weapons at their fingertips. Or, that it was not acceptable back in the early days of the Gem State to pack war weapons anywhere you wished – the dry goods store, the State Capitol, the county fair, all sorts of public gatherings.
As late as the 1960s, responsible public officials figured there were proper places for firearms – the great outdoors, hunting, riding herd and the like – but that brandishing them in populated places outside of the home infringed upon the rights and safety of others.
My old boss and mentor, former Idaho Sen. Len Jordan, was one of them. He was a rugged individualist, having operated a ranch down in Hells Canyon during the Great Depression. He didn’t need to pack a gun in Washington, D.C., to establish his manhood. When a mugger confronted him with a blackjack in 1969, he punched out the guy’s lights.
Sen. Jordan told me he voted for the Gun Control Act of 1968 because, although we didn’t need it in Idaho, there were many urban areas that needed it. He could not be cowed by the gun lobby, even as it exists today. Our present congressional delegation in Washington is shamefully afraid to get crosswise with the National Rifle Association, even as its agenda gets ever more extreme. Back in Jordan’s days, the NRA was more into teaching gun safety and responsibility. Nowadays, it is basically a mouthpiece for the gun industry, responsible for creating fear among gun owners to increase profits, regardless of the consequent death toll.
Idaho’s Legislature is fully in thrall with the NRA and its companion organizations. Every year it feels obligated to pass at least one law to make it easier to pack heat in more instances with fewer limitations. Two such bills passed in the recent session. As Idaho attorney general in 1990, I challenged the constitutionality of a concealed weapons law but did not succeed in the Idaho Supreme Court. A court challenge against some of today’s extreme gun laws may have a better chance of success.
We hear so much about gun rights at this time in our history. It is not like the earlier days of our state when wiser heads understood that with every right there are corresponding responsibilities. The foremost responsibility of today’s gun owners is to safeguard the rights and safety of those who live among them. It will save lives.
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