If you follow the Wyoming Legislature, you’ve probably seen bills introduced that opponents derisively call “solutions in search of problems.”
A few state solons who pre-filed House Bill 28 more than a month before this year’s budget session have added a new wrinkle. They’ve come up with what I call the “a kneecapping of a solution no one wants to use anyway” bill.
HB28, sponsored by Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-Sundance) and a dozen other lawmakers, is an unnecessary firearms regulation bill and a big chunk of legislative red meat thrown to Wyomingites who are horrified at the thought any guns will ever, ever be taken off the streets, even if voluntarily.
The measure states that “no city, town, political subdivision, state agency or entity or any other governmental entity shall operate a firearm buyback program or participate in the implementation, administration or operation” of such a program.
What’s that? You’ve never heard of any Wyoming firearm buyback programs? Well, neither have I. If there were any, I think the same reactionary voices that want to pass HB28 would have screamed so loud and long they would have easily squashed them.
Gun buyback programs are nothing new. They date back to at least 1974, when Baltimore police purchased about 13,500 firearms from the citizenry at $50 per weapon. The idea, then called a “gun bounty,” was developed by the city’s police commissioner after one of his officers was gunned down in the line of duty.
Baltimore is still buying weapons that people voluntarily turn in to police, who check to see if they have been stolen or used in commission of a crime before destroying them. The city’s latest buyback was last month, and purchase prices ranged from $25 to $500, depending on the weapon.
Many cities throughout the country have adopted similar programs, often in the wake of mass shootings. Most of the programs offer either cash or gift cards in exchange for weapons. Tens of thousands of weapons are destroyed annually in this manner. It’s a lot, but not in comparison to the estimated 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the U.S.
The National Rifle Association, of course, is loathe to see any guns or rifles taken out of circulation, much less destroyed. It has banded with the far-right American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafts “model” bills like HB28 and circulates them to legislatures throughout the country.
ALEC is infamously responsible for 25 states adopting “stand your ground” laws. Wyoming legislators, after defeating two previous attempts, finally succumbed to the feverish movement and passed its own version of stand your ground in 2018.
That reckless decision led to a tragic miscarriage of justice last year in Casper. Jason John killed a rival in a love triangle, Wesley Willow, during an altercation with the unarmed man. John used an AR-15 to shoot Willow twice in the chest, six times in the back and once in the back of his head as he lay prone, face down, inside John’s trailer.
A charge of first-degree murder filed by Natrona County prosecutors was dismissed by a state district court judge after John’s attorney raised the stand your ground law as his defense. Without being judged by a jury of his peers, the killer walked free in a case that has been appealed by the state to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
That’s what can happen when Wyoming lawmakers employ cookie-cutter bills written by groups like ALEC and the NRA to appease political extremists.
So far Wyoming has resisted another ALEC bill that would allow gun owners with concealed carry permits to possess weapons on the University of Wyoming campus and the state’s community colleges. The bill has drawn widespread opposition from students, faculty and staff every time it’s been introduced. Even so, I suspect legislators concerned more about their NRA rating than what the public wants will continue to press the issue.
It’s difficult to predict what kind of reaction the proposed ban on firearm buyback programs in Wyoming will receive this election year. The NRA has beat a steady drum against such programs for many years, claiming they are ineffective in reducing violent crime.
There is a lack of serious research about the impact of gun buyback programs on crime in large and small American cities, and studies that have been conducted are largely inconclusive.
What seems obvious, however, is that such programs offer a valid alternative to any gun owner who no longer wants to possess a weapon — out of fear perhaps that it could endanger a child or disturbed family member, or be stolen and used in another crime.
Wyoming has the second highest suicide rate in the nation, and nearly two-thirds of these fatalities are committed using handguns. If a gun buyback program could limit a suicidal person’s easy access to a weapon, why would the state ban the option?
Other nations have used mandatory firearm buybacks following mass shootings, most notably Australia. It was in that country in 1996 where a man with a semi-automatic rifle killed 35 people and injured 18 in an incident known today as the Port Arthur Massacre. The country soon banned certain weapons, buying 640,000 of the prohibited firearms from the public, which also voluntarily turned in about 60,000 other weapons for free.
It’s difficult to argue with the results: Australia has not experienced any mass shootings since, and homicide rates have fallen by about 20%.
Perhaps the legislators backing HB28 are worried that if politicians like former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas ever assume power, the feds will launch mandatory buybacks of outlawed firearms.
This bogeyman has been part of the NRA’s folklore for decades: Candidate (fill-in-the-blank) is coming to take your guns!
As the hysteria over former President Barack Obama’s rumored anti-gun policies proves, it’s all done in the name of protecting gun manufacturers.
The only two new gun laws Obama signed in eight years actually expanded existing rights, making it legal to possess firearms in national parks and to carry guns in baggage on Amtrak. But the bogus fear tactics resulted in record gun and ammunition sales.
The idea of mandatory firearm buybacks in Wyoming is another toothless scare. In a red state where gun ownership is considered sacrosanct, they simply won’t be considered here.
I do think buyback programs can make communities safer. But my chief argument against HB28 is this: If a city, county, law enforcement agency or any other governmental entity wants to conduct a voluntary firearms buyback program -— and permanently take weapons their owners no longer wanted off the street — why should our nanny state step in and stop them?
What if a community experienced a rash of gun-related violent crimes, and the police chief and city council decide their streets could potentially be safer if they offered to buy certain weapons at a fair price? Wouldn’t that be an excellent example of local control, which most state lawmakers say they cherish?
Apparently, the “big brother” mentality that’s at the heart of HB28 believes that only the state, NRA and ALEC — not local governments — know what’s best when it comes to guns and public safety in Wyoming.