By Laura Zuckerman
SALMON Idaho (Reuters) - Public safety officers armed with semi-automatic pistols will patrol Idaho State University for the first time on Tuesday to safeguard students and staff as a new state law allowing concealed weapons on college campuses goes into effect.
Arming eight officers and two supervisors with guns is among security measures adopted by the university in the southeastern Idaho city of Pocatello in light of the new law, school officials said. Another Idaho university was considering a similar move.
"Our objective is to maintain a safe and secure campus environment. We are increasing our officers' capabilities to respond," Steve Chatterton, the college's director of public safety, said in a statement.
The law, passed this year by the state's Republican-controlled legislature, allows retired law enforcement officers and those with so-called enhanced concealed-carry permits to possess hidden guns on university grounds, including some child-care centers but not in dormitories or football stadiums.
Idaho is among seven states that allow firearms on college campuses as a string of recent shootings at schools have renewed a debate in the United States about gun laws and violence.
Approval of the Idaho legislation followed a fierce debate between gun-rights advocates and some faculty of Idaho's leading universities, who strongly opposed the measure.
Republican lawmakers who sponsored the bill argued it would enhance campus safety and bolster gun rights spelled out in the U.S. constitution. Anyone who passes an eight-hour gun training course led by a National Rifle Association instructor would be eligible to apply for the required permit.
Wendy Horman was among 50 Republicans in the state House of Representatives who voted for the bill in March. She learned at the time that Idaho colleges did not have armed officers.
"Quite honestly, that surprised me," Horman said.
It is a sign of the law's flexibility that universities like Idaho State can craft how to implement it, including patrols by officers with firearms, she said, adding: "They know their campus and students and faculty best."
University President Arthur Vailas said in a statement that Idaho State "will take every precaution necessary to ensure the continued safety" of its students, faculty and staff.
The school of 14,000 students will ask the state for funds to underwrite the new safety program, as will Boise State University, which is considering arming officers on its campus in the state capital.
A five-year plan would see 18 officers equipped with firearms patrolling Boise State, where student enrollment tops 22,000, said Greg Hahn, the university's associate vice president for communications and marketing.
Security upgrades at the school, patrolled by one or more Boise Police Department officers, are estimated to cost $1 million a year, he said.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler)
[Pistol via Shutterstock]