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Man looks to address gap in firearm laws

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | July 7, 2020 1:08 AM

Seeks ordinance about carrying weapons while drunk

David Hopkins has a new priority, one he considers No. 1 with a bullet.

Hopkins, an avid hunter who worked for the Kootenai County jail before he retired, took issue with the events of early June, when rumors of looters bringing violence to the city spawned an armed resistance along the streets of downtown Coeur d’Alene.

“With our recent protests in Coeur d’Alene, I saw a myriad of weapons like sniper rifles, hundreds of AR rifles, AR pistols, shotguns, AK-style rifles (and) even lever-action rifles,” the Coeur d’Alene resident told The Press. “There were many different handgun models semi-automatic, revolvers, etc. Then it occurred to me: What if someone dropped one firecracker or a car backfired downtown? Can you imagine the outcome by one individual who was intoxicated carrying and fired?”

For four days, the armed resistance stood guard along the streets downtown. Some credited them with preventing violence in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who was killed by officers from the Minneapolis Police Department, triggering an avalanche of nationwide protests. In that time, Hopkins said the behaviors he witnessed compelled him to write an email to Mayor Steve Widmyer.

“I am writing out of a growing concern about the safety of all Coeur d’Alene residents and visitors to this city,” Hopkins wrote.

He said he has training in firearms and holds an Idaho Enhanced Concealed permit. He said he doesn’t drink or smoke.

He said the recent protests led him to believe that many of those carrying did not know what they are doing and he said some were drinking alcohol.

Hopkins cited an Idaho law — 18-3302B — which makes carrying a concealed weapon while intoxicated a misdemeanor. The member of the National Rifle Association said he wants that expanded to all weapons, not only those hidden from sight. While Idaho law covers the issue with concealed carry specifically, Hopkins said recent events led him to push for a city ordinance that prohibits carrying all firearms while drunk.

“I propose an ordinance that encompasses alcohol or any substance that could impair one’s judgment and carrying a firearm,” he theorized. “It should be a misdemeanor. A field sobriety test could issued by law enforcement by having a person blow no higher than our state legal limit of .08 (blood alcohol content) for driving.”

It’s an idea local gun aficionados say has merit.

Hayden resident Dwight Van Horn doubles as a national board member for the NRA. When asked how much alcohol was appropriate while firing a weapon, Van Horn was unequivocal.

“Zero,” he stressed. “When operating a firearm, you should not be consuming alcohol, period.”

Van Horn added that the NRA’s stance on responsible gun ownership is long-standing, and that members should observe those practices, adding that while Idaho law does not preclude gun owners from having a drink while armed, he chooses not to drink when carrying.

“Our message on alcohol and firearms has been crystal clear for many, many years,” Van Horn said. “If someone chooses not to observe that rule, they do so at their own peril.”

Brett Surplus heads Band Of Brothers Panhandle, a Facebook group friendly to local militia members. He was also instrumental in organizing the armed resistance’s presence on June 1 and gave legal instruction over what the armed resistance could and could not do on the streets. He also led them on June 4, when he told his fighters to stand down. The Rathdrum Republican — who recently announced his write-in candidacy for the District 3 Senate seat — said the idea warrants consideration.

“I could see (Hopkins’) concern,” Surplus said. “I think any firearm discipline should have the responsibility to not mix alcohol with firearms. It’s in the same aspects as driving a motor vehicle: Both require clear, sober functioning, and both can cause bodily injury and or death.”

Hopkins, meanwhile, said he has since sent copies of the email to the Kootenai County commissioners, Sheriff Ben Wolfinger and staff members within Wolfinger’s department. To date, Hopkins has not heard back from county officials or Widmyer, who did not return a request for comment for this story.

Hopkins said he also reached out to state legislators, one of whom reportedly expressed concerns that the law only addresses keeping a concealed weapon while intoxicated, and that he’s evaluating whether to fill that gap when the Legislature meets in January.

“I would hope,” Hopkins penned, “to see Coeur d’Alene set the bar high for reasonable, sober carry.”