Rep. Melissa Wintrow

Rep. Melissa Wintrow

BOISE — The Idaho House voted on Thursday to pass two gun-related bills it has been delaying for the past couple of weeks.

The first, which passed on a party line 53-14 vote with the Republicans in favor and the Democrats opposed, would let people aged 18 to 21 carry concealed handguns in city limits without a permit. The second, which passed 37-31, was a modified version of a bill to take gun rights away from people convicted of sexual battery of a 16- or 17-year-old.

The original version of the second bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, made it out of committee in late February and was held in the House for two weeks. The concealed carry bill cleared committee in early March and had similarly been held for the past week. Several House sessions this week started with huddles between Republican and Democratic House leadership, Wintrow and a few of the House’s more conservative Republican lawmakers including Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, the main sponsor of the concealed carry bill.

Thursday morning, a new version of Wintrow’s bill was introduced into the House Ways and Means Committee.

This one would take gun rights away from people convicted of physical sexual contact with a 16-or-17-year-old when there is an age difference of more than five years. However, it excludes other sections of the statute, such as the ones dealing with soliciting a 16-or-17-year-old to engage in a sexual act or making a photo or video. Wintrow’s original bill would have taken gun rights away from people convicted of these other sections as well.

After passing Zito’s concealed carry bill, the House suspended its normal rules to vote on Wintrow’s new bill immediately. Both now head to the Senate.

Both bills engendered passionate and lengthy debate.

Concealed carry

Idaho got rid of the need for a concealed carry permit under most circumstances in 2016. While Idaho residents over 21 don’t legally need a permit in or outside of city limits, those aged 18 to 21 can’t carry a concealed handgun in city limits without a permit. They can carry a handgun openly in city limits without a permit, and they can carry concealed in unincorporated areas without a permit.

“Friends, this is a mashed potatoes bill to me,” said co-sponsor Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot. “What I mean is, it’s very basic, it’s a simple staple and it’s the Idaho way.”

Young said it would clarify where young people can carry concealed, replacing a currently confusing law. And, she said crime has gone down since Idaho started to allow permitless carry in 2016, which she said belies the argument that extending concealed carry would lead to more crime.

“The Second Amendment doesn’t allow for sideboards,” said Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon. “It’s simple. The people shall have a right to keep and bear arms that shall not be infringed.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, talked at length about his experience as a rock climbing guide and about what he learned studying cognition in graduate school.

“What happens is when young people get mad they are more prone to make irrational decisions, and that’s a fact,” Erpelding said.

As a young guide, he said, he sometimes inadvertently put his clients in danger since his own brain hadn’t finished developing. Young guides, he said are known as “yams,” or young aggressive males, because “they put their clients in risky positions.” Before brain development finishes in the early 20s, Erpelding said, people make more decisions with the amygdala, which is governed by emotion, rather than the prefrontal cortex, which is governed by reason.

“Fear, anger and ego is dangerous, especially when it’s intertwined with alcohol or a lady,” Erpelding said. “No offense, young men.”

Sexual battery

Some critics of Wintrow’s original bill worried it would lead to a lifetime loss of gun rights in situations where it wouldn’t be warranted. One example that was cited in an Idaho Freedom Foundation analysis of the bill was a case where a 22-year-old college senior asked a 17-year-old freshman on a date or sent her sexually explicit texts.

Wintrow said she didn’t think the bill needed to be changed, and that some people were hung up on “hypothetical far-fetched scenarios.” She read her colleagues descriptions of a few cases where older men had sexual contact with 16 or 17 year olds.

“These are the crimes we’re talking about,” Wintrow said. “Pretty ugly. That’s why it’s so important to add this to the list of restrictions on firearms.”

Rep. Just Boyle, R-Midvale, said Idaho’s statutory rape laws put young men at risk of committing a crime when they weren’t trying to do anything wrong. She said she sometimes sees girls who look like they’re in their mid-20s but they’re 14 or 15. She asked her male colleagues if, as young men, they would ask a girl for ID before asking her on a date.

“Today we’re putting everything on the male in society,” she said. “I have two grandsons. They’re small, but I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when they get to be teenagers or in college.”

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, said sexual battery of a 16- or-17-year-old is a serious crime that carries a potential life prison sentence.

“Let’s be clear, we’re talking about child molesters here,” Chaney said. “And in the future, if anyone does any of the things (in the statute) against one of my daughters, it’ll be a tragic day, because that guy’s going to need a gun.”

Chaney said Idaho’s statutory rape laws might need some tweaks, but that Wintrow’s bill didn’t change that.

“If we’ve got to change the underlying policy, then let’s change the policy, but as far as I’m concerned they should even feel lucky if they’re walking around,” he said.

Young said she would vote for the bill as part of the compromise that also got the concealed carry bill through. She said she supported the message the bill sent that having sex with a 16-or-17-year-old is wrong, but that sex education programs that teach high school students about sex contradict that.

“I would encourage you to vote your conscience on this bill,” she concluded.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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