Idaho bill would repeal law banning private militias. Here’s how senators voted

Monday’s Idaho Senate vote approved a bill to repeal an old state law that prohibited private militias and paramilitary groups. As part of an effort clean up unused state code, the Idaho National Guard introduced similar legislation last year. Although the anti-militia statute is not currently in force, legal experts believe that it would be easier to remove private militias from its reach. Similar statutes have been used in other states to prosecute paramilitary activities. State law prohibits any group of men, other than the National Guard from “associating themselves as a military organization or company” or “placing in public with firearms within any city or town in Idaho.”

Senator Dan Foreman (R-Moscow), a U.S. Air Force veteran who was also a former Moscow police officer, sponsored the new bill. During Monday’s Senate debate, Foreman stated that repealing the statute would preserve constitutional rights to assemble or bear arms. Foreman stated, “We will always have those amongst us who will violate the law and seek unrest.” However, our response should be one of fair process. “Our response should not be based on fear that leads to the abridgment constitutional rights.” Foreman’s bill would preserve one section of the law which prohibits cities and towns from harboring any militias.

The Senate passed the bill almost in line with party lines. Two Republicans, Sens. Geoff Schroeder (R-Mountain Home) and Linda Wright Hartgen (R-Twin Falls), opposed it. The bill now heads to the House. It passed the Idaho National Guard bill in overwhelming numbers last year before dying in the Senate. ATTORNEYS SAY THAT CURRENT LAW Is CONSTITUTIONAL. In January, Stoel Rives, Boise’s law firm, and Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection sent a letter opposing Foreman’s previous version to legislators. According to the letter, the U.S. Supreme Court as well as other lower courts upheld similar antimilitia laws in other states against First Amendment and Second Amendment challenges.

The letter stated that Idaho’s ban on unauthorized paramilitary organisations is in accordance with the U.S. Constitution’s First and Second Amendments, the Idaho Constitution, and Idaho’s substantial regulation for military and paramilitary activities. In 2017, the Georgetown Law group successfully sued the organizers the “Unite the Right”, white supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. They used a similar antimilitia statute. Virginia’s court dismissed arguments that rally organizers were being denied their First and Second Amendment rights. On Monday, Sen. James Ruchti (D-Pocatello) recalled the time when Aryan Nations was a neo-Nazi organization that held parades in Coeur d’Alene. Ruchti, a U.S. Army Veteran and attorney, stated that similar groups could form militias and parade with weapons to limit the speech rights for Idahoans who are against them.

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“You go to a parade and neo-Nazis march with weapons. Ruchti asked. Ruchti said, “You’re at most going to think twice. Maybe three times.” You might not even say anything.”