Idaho’s federal lawmakers mum on gun legislation as election opponents call for action

·5 min read

The spotlight has once again turned toward lawmakers in Washington, D.C., over what can be done to reduce the contagion of gun violence in the U.S. following the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman entered an elementary school on Tuesday and killed 19 fourth-graders and two teachers.

President Joe Biden and Democratic leadership in Congress have renewed calls to pass legislation that would limit access to guns for some citizens. Idaho’s longtime federal delegation, however — two Republican senators, two GOP representatives — has mostly remained quiet, including about potential legislation they might consider supporting.

Rep. Russ Fulcher, who represents North and Southwest Idaho in the state’s 1st Congressional District, was first among the four-member delegation to make a formal statement late Wednesday about the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, nearly two days after the shocking incident. Rep. Mike Simpson followed with his thoughts on Thursday.

But neither Sens. Mike Crapo nor Jim Risch has spoken up, including in response to Idaho Statesman requests for comment.

Fulcher, 60, was not made available for an interview with the Statesman. But the two-term congressman, who is seeking reelection in November, posted a written statement to his official Facebook page late Wednesday, indicating his stance on possible U.S. House votes ahead while also offering “thoughts and prayers.”

“After such events, our natural response is to look for policy solutions,” Fulcher’s statement read. “While hate — the primary motive in many of these shootings — simply cannot be legislated away, I have worked to address root causes. … While there are legislative concepts worthy of discussion, I do not believe adding restrictions to the constitutionality protected rights of law-abiding citizens is the appropriate answer.”

Idaho U.S. Reps. Mike Simpson, R-District 2, left, and Russ Fulcher, R-District 1.
Idaho U.S. Reps. Mike Simpson, R-District 2, left, and Russ Fulcher, R-District 1.

Kaylee Peterson, Fulcher’s Democratic challenger in November’s general election, called on her opponent — as well as Idaho’s other members of Congress — to work toward substantive change. She committed to “actionable solutions” through legislation if voted into office.

“We may not agree on how exactly to solve this problem, but apathy is unacceptable,” Peterson said in a statement. “To do nothing is unacceptable. Idaho leaders like Russ Fulcher must be held accountable for their inability to sit at the table, reach across the aisle and find a solution that saves the lives of our children.”

Fresh off his Republican primary victory on May 17, Simpson, 71, who represents Boise and Eastern Idaho in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, issued a statement Thursday afternoon. The National Rifle Association-endorsed candidate for a 13th term did not address precisely what he envisioned moving forward, but said he and his wife, Kathy, are praying for the nation and especially the families “who are living the unimaginable.”

“The massacre in Texas has once again rocked our nation to its core. This is not an acceptable status quo and we must do better for our children,” Simpson said in the statement. “Hate and division are too present in our country, and elected leaders must set an example by coming together to find meaningful solutions that addresses the clear mental health crisis in this country.”

Simpson’s Democratic rival, Wendy Norman, demanded that her opponent get involved with meaningful action. She identified herself as a first-grade teacher, gun owner and mother of active hunters.

“I understand Western culture and the importance of the Second Amendment. But do we love our guns more than our children?” Norman said in a statement. “Must we wait until it’s our own kids falling to a bullet before we decide enough is enough?

“Mike Simpson, when in heaven’s name are you going to stop kowtowing to the gun lobby and do what you know is right?”

Idaho Senators silent on specifics

Crapo, 70, is endorsed by the NRA and holds an “A+” rating from the powerful gun lobby. Neither Crapo’s office nor his campaign for a fifth term in the U.S. Senate issued a statement by Thursday afternoon. He also did not respond to a Statesman request for comment.

On Wednesday, however, Crapo issued a brief comment to The New York Times concerning this week’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary in rural Texas.

“What happened in Uvalde is a horrific tragedy, and I condemn all violence,” Crapo told The New York Times. “I’m personally devastated to hear of the young lives lost and I will mourn for the loss of these precious lives.”

Idaho U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo, left, and Jim Risch.
Idaho U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo, left, and Jim Risch.

David Roth, 40, Crapo’s Democratic opponent, said Crapo and Risch are out of step with American citizens in opposing universal background checks. A bill that would establish the program has passed the U.S. House several times over but been held up by Republicans in the U.S. Senate through filibuster, which would require 60 votes to overcome.

“Background checks are fairly accepted, even among members of the NRA,” Roth said in a phone interview. “Really, there’s no excuse to not move that forward, other than the money from endorsements that they get are worth more than children’s lives. I know that sounds harsh, but how else would you view it?”

If elected, Roth also pledged to commit more federal funds to increasing access to behavioral health resources for those going through crises and suffering with mental illness.

A spokesperson for Risch told the Statesman that the senator, who is not up for reelection until 2026, had yet to issue a comment or statement about the school shooting, or possible legislation he would consider.

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