In Idaho, who’s packing a gun is a private affair

Editorial from the Lewiston Tribune

By Marty Trillhaase |

Ernesto Bustamante was licensed to carry a concealed firearm in the state of Idaho.

Nobody’s claiming that had anything to do with the former University of Idaho assistant psychology professor shooting down his former lover and student, Katy Benoit, on Aug. 22 before he committed suicide about nine hours later in a Moscow motel room.

But the incident does reveal something disturbing: Not only can virtually anybody in Idaho get such a permit, but when he does, it’s none of your business.

Latah County Sheriff Wayne Rausch acknowledged issuing Bustamante a concealed weapons permit because he cleared a background check. Bustamante had no felony conviction. He had not been adjudicated mentally ill. He was not wanted by the law. He was not a drug addict. Obviously, Bustamante did not check yes to any of the questions that might have disqualified him:

“Lacking mental capacity.”
“Mentally ill.”
“Gravely disabled.”
” Incapacitated.”

“I’m somewhat amused by the fact that what always seems to come to the fore is whether or not someone had a CWP as if that (not issuing him a permit) would have somehow prevented the guy from doing this thing,” Rausch told the Tribune’s David Johnson.

But when the Tribune filed a public records request to examine the document, it was denied. Idaho’s lawmakers decided the fact that someone had a CWP should be exempt from Idaho’s public records law.

In Idaho, your driver’s license is a public record. So is your car registration. Also a matter of public record is what real estate you own and what it’s worth for taxing purposes – as is whether you are current on your property taxes.

The same once was true for concealed weapon permits. When former Lewiston Democratic Sen. Bruce Sweeney helped grant ordinary Idahoans access to a concealed weapon permit in 1990, his bill provided public disclosure.

Go ahead and get a permit, but your neighbors had a right to know if you had one. In fact, it became common for Idaho newspapers to occasionally publish a list of people authorized to conceal and carry firearms.

Openness established equilibrium and accountability. Say, for the sake of argument, a university professor startles his students by announcing he suffers from multiple personalities with names such as “the beast” and the “psychopathic killer.” Now just assume one of those students is curious enough to file a public records request, learns that this apparently unstable professor is licensed to carry a weapon clandestinely and alerts either law enforcement or the university administration about his concerns.

Today’s law makes that absolutely impossible. In 1995, lawmakers pulled the weapons permit outside Idaho’s public records act. Twice since, they have updated the law – the last time in 2009 they did so unanimously.

What’s the sense of having a concealed weapons law if everybody knows who has a concealed weapon, lawmakers asked.

Just this: With public access, you can scrutinize the system and the people running it – and then decide whether it needs fixing.

If you see an elderly driver involved in an accident, you can evaluate whether Idaho should have issued him a license – or whether the law ought to change.

If a contractor defrauds a client, you can look into whether Idaho’s contractor licensing law is sufficiently stringent.

When someone in Idaho obtains a permit to carry a concealed weapon, however, you’ll just have to take law enforcement’s word that the system works. – M.T.

Editorial from the Lewiston Tribune

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