Legislation /

Idaho Senate Passes Bill to Repeal Prohibition on Private Militias

'We’re sending a message to hate groups to show up in our communities,' said state Senator James Ruchti, who voted against the policy change

Legislators in the Idaho Senate have voted to repeal a statewide ban on militias despite protests from state Democrats. 

The bill has the support of both Governor Brad Little and the Idaho National Guard. If enacted into law, Senate Bill 1056 will repeal section 46-802 of the Idaho Code. The section currently prohibits “a body of men” from associating “as a military company or organization, or parade in public with firearms in any city or town.”

Cities and towns would still be barred from appropriating or raising money to arm, supply, uniform, or in any other way support or sustain “a military company or organization” outside of the National Guard.

The state Senate voted against the bill last year after the policy was passed by the Idaho House of Representatives.

On March 6, the state Senate voted in favor of SB 1056 24-9, with two members absent or excused.

Idaho Senator Dan Foreman, the bill’s sponsor, argued in February that the current regulation violated citizens’ constitutional right to assemble and to bear arms. He also said repealing the 1927 law would not exempt anyone carrying a gun from following current gun laws.

“I understand full and well, being a retired police officer, that many people have an innate adverse reaction to the presence of firearms,” said Foreman while speaking to the Senate State Affairs Committee. “Firearms scare some people. I understand that. They don’t own them, they don’t use them, they have no use for them. That’s fine, but we cannot deny people their Second Amendment rights out of fear.”

During the hearing, state Senator James Ruchti denounced the bill. The Democrat said allowing militias was akin to empowering neo-Nazis, per KPVI

“I can’t believe we’re doing this. I cannot believe it,” Ruchti said. “We are sending a message to militias: free rein, have at it, start training. We’re sending a message to hate groups to show up in our communities and share your message with us under arms. Bring your weapons.”

During a debate on March 6, Foreman said, “We will unfortunately always have those among us who will break the law and seek to cause unrest.” 

“However, the response to that should be one of due process,” the Air Force veteran said. “Our response should not be based in fear that leads to the abridgment of constitutional rights.”

“We should not legislate out of fear,” he added, per Boise State Public Radio. “We should not curtail constitutional rights out of fear or assumptions.”

In January 2022, the Idaho National Guard introduced legislation to repeal section 46-802 of the Idaho Code. According to the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho National Guard’s general counsel Major Stephen Stokes told the “antiquated” legislature that the statute “restricts fundamental rights and freedoms” as protected both by the constitutions of the U.S. and of Idaho.

A spokesperson for Little’s office said the governor planned to support the 2022 bill. At the time, the governor’s office said the anti-militia statute was “needless and inconsistent with Idahoans’ rights to peaceably assemble and bear arms in public.”

The bill will now move to the Idaho House for a vote. 

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