Opinion: The distraction of guns brought to the stage

Bonneville County has a history of gun violence. In my childhood, in the mid-’90s, it was the shot heard around the county. Three teens had shot and robbed the local Grant store. Around the same timeframe, there were two other incidents involving guns and Idaho youth. Each generation has its own stories, the shots that ring out, moments locked in memory. Each story has a common factor outside of the gun and it is easy, unchecked access to them.

Before Columbine, Bonneville County teens had the incident at the Grant store. Many knew the boys and had attended school with them. Talks of gangs, planning and teen parties became all the whispers around the county. The only concern was the boys’ behavior and where they came from. However, the fact passed over was how easily these boys could access guns.

Within months there had been several incidents. Two boys had visited their sick friend to show off a stolen gun, a case of Russian roulette gone wrong. Then a fight went wrong, and a roommate shot the other trying to prevent gun violence. Again, the access to guns was apparent but not spoken to at all. Some “offenders” have served their time and moved on in these cases. What remains are the victims.

Idaho does have a tradition of responsible gun ownership as well. Responsible gun ownership is centered around using guns for hunting and home protection, with a strong message of not pointing them at people and always treating them as loaded. Many families have stories that go back generations of successful hunts. It is common to see these photos and trophies on the walls of Idaho homes. Everyone had them, but no one flashed them. Responsible ownership is confident. It isn’t so insecure that it needs to brandish a gun at a simple meeting to intimidate those who disagree politically.

TheNational Rifle Association, founded in the 1870s, used to be a gun and hunter safety organization. It even advocated for certain gun control bills. Now, of course, it’s a big-money organization buying politicians. The idea of an individual right to gun ownership is only as recent as the 2008 Heller decision.

Today, guns are a staple of any Idaho GOP candidate participating in an active campaign. We have had legislators cause fights in local businesses with them. We even have elected officials open-carrying in our libraries out of the blue. There is a concealed weapons course almost every weekend. Unfortunately, a live hunter’s education course is much harder to find.

Guns have been brought to the main stage in Idaho as a distraction. Those brandishing their weapons seek to enforce their extremist views through the threat of violence. They’re trying to make guns an issue, but in Idaho, we have other issues. Education. Access to our public lands. In fact, with these extremists ready to sell off our lands to the highest bidders, our cherished hunting grounds are likely in greater jeopardy than our access to guns.

Dan Barker is a leadership management consultant and the vice chair for the Bonneville County Democratic Central Committee.