SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - The Idaho House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a measure allowing guns — in plain sight or concealed — on public university and college campuses.
The bill, approved by a 41-28 vote, now heads to the Senate.
The legislation strips governing boards of publicly funded universities, community colleges and technical schools of the authority to establish weapons policies on campuses except for undergraduate dorms.
Idaho’s four state universities and many of its community colleges ban weapons on campus for all but law enforcement officials.
Public post-secondary schools are the latest targets of an ongoing effort by Republicans in Western states to liberalize gun laws.
A bill approved this week by the Arizona Senate would allow weapons along walkways and other areas of college and university campuses and similar legislation is under consideration by lawmakers in Texas.
And in Wyoming, a push to broaden gun rights was behind passage of a law allowing residents to carry concealed handguns without a permit. That means they do not have to undergo criminal background checks or show proficiency with a firearm.
Supporters in the Idaho House of the plan to open campuses to weapons said it would make students, faculty and staff safer at universities like Boise State and Idaho State.
“It is a basic human right to be able to protect yourself from those who attempt to do you harm,” said Representative Erik Simpson, sponsor of the legislation.
The Idaho Falls Republican said it took law enforcement nine minutes to respond to a shooting rampage that killed 32 on the campus of Virginia Tech University in 2007.
“When seconds count, armed law enforcement are minutes away,” said Simpson, who urged approval for the National Rifle Association-backed bill.
Opponents, mostly from the Democratic minority in the House, said university administrators and campus security officials were against the bill, arguing it would interfere with their obligation to provide a safe environment for students and employees.
“Do students really want classrooms to be filled with guns?” said Democratic Representative Elfreda Higgins. “Will they feel safer knowing someone next to them will be packing?”
She said the bill did nothing to address rampages like the one at Virginia Tech.
“Is more guns on campus the only answer our society can come up with in response to horrific gun violence on campus?” she said.
The bill is making its way through the Idaho Legislature amid ongoing litigation over the University of Idaho’s weapons ban. A law student in January sued the university, alleging the ban is unconstitutional.
A spokesman for Republican Governor Butch Otter said it is not his policy to comment on pending legislation.
Editing by Dan Whitcomb