Armed with assault weapons, a group of mostly white men began marching the streets of rural Idaho towns to intimidate Black Lives Matter protesters in the summer of 2020.
Now, in 2023, Idaho’s legislature is attempting to legitimize this aggressive behavior by making it legal for citizens to parade with firearms and form a private militia.
On March 6, the Idaho Senate voted in favor, 24-9, of Senate Bill 1056, which would repeal Section 46-802 of Idaho Code. The section of code being repealed has been in place since 1927 and makes it illegal for citizens to “associate themselves together as a military organization or parade in public with firearms.”
The bill was introduced by Sen. Daniel Foreman who argued in the State Affairs committee that the current ban on private militias is unconstitutional.
“Senate Bill 1056 supports the constitutional rights of all Idahoans,” Foreman said. “Freedom of assembly is a right that is not predicated on a citizen’s agreement to refrain from carrying firearms.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1886, and upheld in 2008, that the constitution “does not prevent the prohibition of private paramilitary organizations,” and all 50 states have some law or policy prohibiting private groups from parading in public with firearms.
“The thing that concerns me is that Sen. Foreman admitted that repealing the bill would empower the development of private coalitions,” said Sen. Melissa Wintrow at an Idaho Press Club event on March 8. “This bill opens the door for armed folks to parade out in front of judges’ homes, elected officials’ homes, hospitals and school boards.”
This is not Idaho’s first attempt to repeal the private militia ban — in the 2022 legislative session the house passed a nearly identical bill which sat in committee and never saw a vote in the senate.
S.B. 1056 is currently in the Transportation and Defense committee, awaiting a vote in the House.