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Gun Rights Group In Idaho Pushes For Looser Firearm Restrictions


America has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the developed world, and that has led many states to pass stricter firearms laws in recent years. But gun rights groups in more conservative states - take Idaho, for example - are continuing to push lawmakers to go in the opposite direction. Boise State Public Radio's Heath Druzin has more.

HEATH DRUZIN, BYLINE: In the halls of Idaho's Capitol Building, Greg Pruett is making a Facebook video.


GREG PRUETT: Hey, everybody. Greg Pruett here, president of the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance.

DRUZIN: He posts regular updates each legislative session for supporters of his influential gun rights group.


PRUETT: We fight hard. We play for keeps, OK? We take no prisoners.

DRUZIN: There's been a lot of talk about guns from national politicians, but little action. The real fight is playing out at the state level. Pruett's group, for example, has pushed Idaho to get rid of nearly all its regulations. And now lawmakers are poised to drop restrictions on out-of-state residents' right to carry concealed weapons. That proposal sailed through the Idaho House and will likely pass the Senate. Pruett says he long ago stopped waiting for Washington to act.

PRUETT: The Republicans really didn't do gun owners any favor in the first two years of President Trump's tenure when they had the full control of the House and the Senate and obviously the White House.

DRUZIN: Idaho has long been gun-friendly, but the state's absolutist turn is more recent. So-called no-compromise gun groups like Pruett's have been pushing conservative states farther to the right on firearms. Wyoming dropped its permit requirement for concealed weapons. Texas passed a law last year allowing guns in places of worship. And many more bills are in the works.

Back in Idaho, the climate has gotten to the point where onlookers barely reacted when an older man and a young girl stepped to the podium to testify in a legislative committee hearing and the man said...


CHARLES NIELSEN: My name is Charles Nielsen. This is my granddaughter, Bailey. Bailey is 11 years old. Bailey is carrying a loaded AR-15.

DRUZIN: UCLA law professor Adam Winkler wrote the book "Gunfight" about America's legal battles over firearms.

ADAM WINKLER: If one wanted to figure out how successful the gun rights movement has been, you wouldn't look to Congress. You would look to the states.

DRUZIN: And this is happening as the trend is going in the opposite direction in much of the country. Idaho's neighbor, Nevada, enacted sweeping firearms legislation last year. And just last month, New Mexico lawmakers passed the so-called red flag law - meaning courts can temporarily remove guns from at-risk people. Winkler says state gun groups are trying to fight that tide in the absence of federal legislation.

WINKLER: I think the gun rights groups do have a larger strategy that explains things like what's happening in Idaho. The idea is to keep the momentum alive for lifting the restrictions on guns in America.

DRUZIN: Also telling is what hasn't passed in Idaho. Bills to keep guns away from certain sex offenders and domestic abusers both failed in the past two years. Boise Democrat Melissa Wintrow brought these bills. She was shocked at the outcome. This session, she's not even trying, confident Republicans won't touch gun laws in an election year.

MELISSA WINTROW: I've seen some really good representatives that have lost elections because they haven't made the emotional vote that some of those special interest groups want.

DRUZIN: Wintrow says some Republicans who voted no on her bills privately told her they support her efforts.

WINTROW: Why can't we have a more balanced discussion? Why can't we talk about public safety? Why can't we talk about the facts and put some of the emotion aside?

DRUZIN: The day we talked, Wintrow said gun lobbyists had killed yet another of her bills - this one to extend protections for sexual assault survivors. For NPR News, I'm Heath Druzin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MR. HAZELTINE'S "REBOUND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Heath Druzin is Boise State Public Radio’s Guns & America reporter, part of a national collaboration between 10 public radio stations examining all aspects of firearms in America.