Sending a message

Laws are as much about the message they send as they are about curtailing or promoting a certain behavior.

I think laws generally fall into one of two categories. The first are the laws that are designed to prevent or discourage a certain activity. Speed limit laws are an example of this type of preventative law.  Higher speeds cause the driver to have less control, longer stopping distances, shorter reaction times so we have laws that are intended to influence the motoring public to stay within acceptable safe speeds and penalize those who exceed those limits.

The second type of law promotes a desired behavior or outcome. The federal government is very fond of this type of law when it comes to awarding government contracts. Preference is given to companies owned by minorities or women. There are requirements of what percentage of work crews are made up of minorities, women, veterans and disabled workers. The point is to increase the number of people from these groups gaining employment on federally funded projects.

On a higher philosophical level both categories of laws send a message to the outside world about what a culture values.

Many years ago while I was working as a reporter for National Public Radio in Boise I covered a story about a local “gentlemen’s club” that was using a small section of Idaho Code to allow the dancers at the club to perform completely nude. This is not your normal NPR type of story and I later wrote a freelance article for Reuters News Service that was published across the country and in seven foreign countries.

The argument the club’s owner was using is that models are allowed to be fully nude in Idaho only for the purposes of artistic education. So the club owner started handing out pads of paper and pencils to patrons. It was a novel approach to interpreting the law, but in the end it was ruled by Idaho courts to be an inappropriate application of the “artistic education” clause of the law.

In researching the laws pertaining to “adult entertainment” I realized the length and detail of those laws sent a message to the world about what Idaho values. To the larger world it appears that Idaho values personal freedom. There is a way to legally operate an “adult establishment,” but the regulatory hoops that must be jumped through are specific, exacting and complicated for the simple reason of preventing the unsuspecting public from accidentally encountering these types of businesses. In short we value protecting our citizen’s values as well as their freedoms.

When the state legislature writes and then passes laws they are continuing the commentary on our values as a state.

Currently there are two concealed weapons laws working their way through the system in Boise.

The first would allow retired law enforcement officers and those private individuals in possession of the Idaho enhanced carry permit to carry concealed weapons on the campuses of Idaho’s colleges and universities. Advocates claim universities are a collection point for unstable, unruly and, often, unbalanced youth, therefore the need for personal protection is higher. Allowing guns on campus would give more people the ability to respond to a crisis.

The second bill would remove an exemption to the concealed carry laws allowing elected officials to carry a weapon within the state without a permit. The idea of removing the exemption came after Rep. Mark Patterson of Boise had his carry permit revoked for not disclosing he was convicted of a felony in the 1970s in Florida. Patterson was still able to carry a concealed weapon while he was in office. Patterson resigned in January. While he is no longer allowed to carry a concealed weapon the incident, in the minds of some legislators, highlighted a flaw in the law.

The Idaho enhanced carry permit does not conduct a mental competency evaluation. The new permit is considered a higher level of concealed weapon certification because it does use nationwide databases to certify an applicant has not had a prior commitment or other mental health disqualification. The enhanced carry permit also requires eight hours of instructor led training. In short anyone over the age of 18 that has not had a legally documented mental issue and has taken the class can get a permit. There are stipulations in the law that would prevent guns in dorms and large venues. If the purpose is to allow a path to personal protection against individual on individual violence over, say, grades, doesn’t it also allow that disgruntled student a legal path to self armament?

As to removing the exemption for lawmakers, which includes all elected officials in the state, isn’t the potential for violence higher for office holders than it is for regular citizens? Isn’t it far more likely an elected official that raises taxes or votes for a controversial zoning change is more likely to potentially incite a violent, desperation fueled confrontation than the average Joe on the street?

Personally I don’t care if people carry a weapon. A very old Colt Firearms ad said “God made man. Col. Samuel Colt made them equal.” So let’s be equal. If you choose to keep the Second Amendment alive carry that thing on your hip proudly and openly. I am not saying everyone must pack heat; just if you do let the world know what message you are actually sending out.

I am fairly certain no one in Boise has gone so far afield to make this connection, but from the outside looking in the message Idaho currently sending is “We trust a group of young adults attempting to practice self-control for the very first time to use guns more responsibly than we do our elected officials.”

Is that the message we want to be sending?

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