Wyoming gun-rights activists are staring down the barrel of defeat for a bill that would repeal gun-free zones at most public facilities in the state, and they are steamed.
“Liberty in Wyoming is once again under attack,” wrote the Big Horn Basin Tea Party in a public statement last week.
But under Senate File 75 – Repeal gun free zones and preemption amendments, it’s really public safety that’s under attack.
The measure is sponsored by Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) and is the latest skirmish in his years-long battle to allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to bring their guns to school, college campuses, governmental meetings, sporting events and anyplace else he can think of. About the only publicly funded places where guns would still be banned are courtrooms.
The Tea Party and other conservative groups and individuals are upset because SF75 was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it will likely die. They believe that having 13 of 30 state senators and 23 representatives in the 60-member House signed onto the bill demonstrates widespread support.
What it does not yet have, however, is a majority of state lawmakers in favor of the bill. And judging by the way it is moving through the Senate, one huge roadblock in the form of the Senate Judiciary Committee will stall it.
An attempt by Senate Judiciary Chairman Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) to transfer the bill to the chamber’s Agriculture Committee failed on a 14-16 vote. Three of the votes against the change came from Judiciary Committee members: Sens. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton (D-Rock Springs), R.J. Kost (R-Powell) and Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) — a majority of the 5-member committee.
The Big Horn Basin Tea Party cast shame on three other GOP “senators from the Big Horn Basin” who voted against switching committees, noting that if two had voted differently the bill would undoubtedly move to the full Senate.
I think the public owes a debt of gratitude to the trio: Kost and Sens. Cale Case (who represents Senate District 25 in Fremont County, not the Big Horn Basin) and Hank Coe (R-Cody). It should be noted that Case is a co-sponsor of SF75.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled its hearing of the bill for Wednesday at 8 a.m.
Myriad common-sense reasons exist to kill this bill. This isn’t a Second Amendment issue, as proponents claim. It’s a safety issue.
Do we really want anyone to possess guns at sporting events where alcohol is consumed and tempers can flare? Are people who have concealed carry permits so super-human that they are immune to anger, and so masterfully trained in the use of firearms that they are guaranteed not to discharge a weapon either accidentally or on purpose?
Of course not. It’s not difficult to imagine many situations where there could be a volatile confrontation at a school, college or city council meeting that could end in someone getting injured or killed. People get mad, but if they don’t have a gun on them, there is zero chance they will shoot anyone.
Backers of SF75 seem to be trying to get revenge against both the University of Wyoming for banning guns at the Republican State Convention on campus last year and the courts for upholding the institution’s decision.
GOP delegate Lyle Williams of Uinta County sued UW, but in Albany County, District Court Judge Tori Kricken ruled that the law authorizes the university to regulate firearms on campus.
Bouchard had a well-publicized dust-up with UW when he threatened to cut off all funding for its English Department because he objected to what he perceived as an anti-gun skit in which an unarmed black student was shot.
So let’s call SF75 what it is: a state senator’s temper tantrum in the guise of protecting Second Amendment rights.
The most objectionable element of Bouchard’s bill is that it takes all decisions about the “sale, transfer, purchase, delivery, taxation, manufacture, ownership, transportation, storage, use and possessions of firearms, weapons and ammunition” away from local authorities and puts it under the Legislature’s control.
Not all Republicans support SF75, but it is a GOP-backed bill in the sense that no Democrats have signed onto it. Local control is supposed to be one of the foundations of Republican philosophy.
Take a look at a video on the state party’s website and you’ll hear comments stating that philosophy plainly.
“Local control is really where the hard work and the good work gets done,” says State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.
Dicky Shanor, a prominent figure in the Laramie County GOP, paraphrases Thomas Jefferson in the same video,“The government that governs closest to the people governs best.”
So why is local control being totally usurped in this proposed legislation?
Why are people like the members of the Big Horn Basin Tea Party trying to shame Republicans for not supporting a measure so inherently at odds with the principle of local control? Western conservatives constantly complain about “federal overreach.” This is a prime example of state overreach.
The Casper City Council banned guns at its meetings in 2011. Bouchard, who was the director of the Wyoming Gun Owners organization but not yet a state senator, had shown up openly carrying a gun in his holster to testify against the proposed rule.
I still believe that the image of Bouchard’s ridiculous intimidation stunt appearing on the front page of the next day’s Casper Star-Tribune led to widespread support of the council’s action. The council reaffirmed its position in 2016, when then-Mayor Daniel Sandoval said that allowing guns at meetings could inhibit free speech and make attendees feel unsafe.
When the issue came up again last year, City Councilman Mike Huber, a former judge, said the council “has an obligation to provide a safe environment for everyone who comes in here, and I can tell you over the years I have attended a lot of courthouse security training sessions … the worst thing you can have to make things unsafe for everybody in here is firearms.”
Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr, a conservative Republican, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that she personally would have no problem if the Cheyenne City Council decided to allow firearms at meetings. But she opposes SF75 because it’s a clear infringement of local control.
“I think it should be up to the locals to come up with what works best for their cities when it comes to Second Amendment rights,” she told the newspaper.
Councilman Pete Laybourn noted that their meetings are attended by a Cheyenne police officer in charge of keeping the peace.
“We already have ‘a good guy with a gun’ at our meetings,” said Laybourn.
Which begs the question, why do Bouchard and other members of the GOP — which traditionally characterizes itself as the “law-and-order” party — only feel safe if they’re the ones walking around packing heat? Isn’t the presence of law enforcement enough to convince them that they don’t have to stroll up to a podium at a council meeting wearing a gun?