Politics is known for making strange bedfellows. It can also create unusual foes. A rather unique conflict may be brewing in Idaho in relation to so-called “red flag” laws geared to reduce gun violence.
The potential catalyst is the announcement last week by President Trump, in response to recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton that left 32 dead, that he supports red flag measures to allow temporary removal of weapons from individuals based upon reports of friends, family, etc. of a risk of imminent violence.
In his televised address last week, the president stated: “We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process. That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.”
Close Trump ally and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham is pushing a red flag bill and he has his heft as the chair of the powerful U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee behind it. He wants to leverage federal law enforcement grants to “encourage” more states (17 have them now, not including either Texas or Ohio) to adopt red flag laws. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is amenable to consideration of such legislation later this year.
Trump’s embrace of red flag measures, coupled with Graham and McConnell’s intent to advance such, could create unique pressure on Idaho’s gun lobby, other hard-right groups and some of their key legislative supporters. They have staked out a position opposing even the concept of red flag laws.
This stance came about over the past three years as the Idaho Legislature considered modifying Idaho state constitutional language on crime victims’ rights to track Marsy’s Law. The proposed amendment provides a victim “reasonable protection” from the accused. This year it passed the Idaho Senate but was held in a House committee.
Greg Pruett, the president of Idaho’s 2nd Amendment Alliance, expressed his disdain for such measures:
“A new wave of dangerous laws is being pushed across the United States. These laws don’t require due process and your rights are removed without a crime ever being committed. If this sounds familiar, then it may sound like something out of “Minority Report” with Tom Cruise. Sadly, it isn’t a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s the new America. At least it will be if you don’t fight back.
“’Red flag’ laws, also known as ‘extreme risk protection orders’ or ‘gun violence restraining orders,’ have now passed in 12 states. Even some Republican-controlled states (Indiana and Florida) have passed these laws. They are dangerous to freedom, unconstitutional and should be more properly termed ‘gun confiscation orders.’”
Pruett’s fierce opposition has been embraced by Idahoans for Liberty, the Ada County Tea Party and even the odd “redoubt” movement (which is now pushing creation of a “conservative Christian” state from parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana). Boise’s loudly conservative KIDO talk show host Kevin Miller is on the same page.
Wayne Hoffman, head of the highly visible Idaho Freedom Foundation, went even further two years ago. He called for the rejection of a proposed law to deny those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence the right to have a gun for two years, claiming the “gun grabbers are coming for your guns,”. It is hard to imagine that organization ever supporting restrictions before conviction.
Conservative champion Rep. Heather Scott told constituents in a newsletter this year on Marsy’s Law: “Pro gun groups claim it opens the door to abusive Red Flag laws and patriot groups claim it denies due process. Both reasons make this bad legislation with far reaching and hidden consequences to citizens. After researching the founder, who is the main financier promoting this amendment change, and learning lots more on his criminal past, I am a SOLID NO vote!”
Scott is not alone. The Idaho 2nd Amendment Alliance asked Idaho legislators this year whether they “oppose any and all forms of Red Flag laws”. The following Republican legislators joined Scott in answering affirmatively: Rep. Vito Barbieri, Rep. John Green, Rep. Tony Wisniewski, Sen. Dan Johnson, Rep. Mike Kingsley, Rep. Thyra Stevenson, Sen. Carl Crabtree, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, Sen. Steven Thayn, Rep. Tammy Nichols, Rep. Christy Zito, Sen. Lee Heider, Sen. Steve Bair, Rep. Julianne Young, Rep. Chad Christensen, Rep. Byran Zollinger and Rep. Barbara Ehardt.
With the national push for red flag laws by Trump and national Republicans, what stance will these Idaho groups and legislators take going forward? Will they reverse position completely, potentially angering their hardcore supporters? Or, will they dig in, crossing the titular leader of the GOP? Might they slide to embracing some more restricted form of a red flag law?
The pressure is building. Greg Pruett last week pointedly stated he wasn’t gong to back down, asking Idaho gun supporters to “push back with everything they have”. Where others land will be fascinating to watch.