By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON Idaho (Reuters) – Public safety officers armed with semi-automatic pistols will patrol Idaho State University for the first time on Tuesday to safeguard students and staff, in response to a new state law allowing concealed weapons on college campuses.
Arming eight officers and two supervisors with guns is among the security measures the school in the southeastern Idaho city of Pocatello has adopted in light of the new law, school officials said. Another Idaho university was considering a similar move.
“Our objective is to maintain a safe and secure campus environment. We are increasing our officers’ capabilities to respond,” Idaho State public safety director Steve Chatterton said in a statement.
The Idaho gun law, passed this year by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, allows retired law enforcement officers and those with so-called enhanced concealed-carry permits to possess guns on university grounds, including some child-care centers but not in dormitories or football stadiums.
Idaho lawmakers took the decision in the aftermath of a string of shootings at U.S. schools and public places, despite opposition from some faculty of the state’s leading universities, who strongly opposed the measure.
Republican lawmakers who sponsored the bill argued it would enhance campus safety and bolster gun rights spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, while opponents feared it could endanger students and faculty.
The bill became law on Tuesday, the same day similar legislation took effect in Georgia, where lawful gun owners are allowed to bring weapons into public places such as churches and bars, unless church officials and bar owners decide to ban them.
In Georgia, the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta opted to ban guns on church property. The state’s two Episcopal bishops have announced similar decisions.
In Idaho, Wendy Horman, one of 50 Republicans in the state House of Representatives who voted for the gun bill in March, said she had been surprised to learn at the time that Idaho colleges did not have armed officers.
It is a sign of the law’s flexibility that universities like Idaho State can craft how to implement it, including patrols by armed officers, she said, adding: “They know their campus and students and faculty best.”
University President Arthur Vailas said in a statement that Idaho State would “take every precaution necessary to ensure the continued safety” of its students, faculty and staff.
The school, with 14,000 students, will ask the state for funds to underwrite the new safety program, as will Boise State University, which is considering arming officers on its campus in the state capital.
A five-year plan would see 18 officers with firearms patrolling Boise State, where student enrollment tops 22,000, said Greg Hahn, the university’s associate vice president for communications and marketing.
Security upgrades at the school, patrolled by one or more Boise Police Department officers, are estimated to cost $1 million a year, he said.
(Additional reporting by David Beasley in Atlanta; editing by Cynthia Johnston, Sandra Maler and Gunna Dickson)