Why is Wyoming meddling in New York’s gun laws?
— May 13, 2014
Not content to pass gun laws for its own citizens, the state of Wyoming is attempting to force its will on the people of New York.
It’s not alone in taking such action this election year. Twenty-one other states have also joined in a “friend of the court” brief opposing a New York law banning certain kinds of semi-automatic weapons. Included in this litigious group of pro-gun states are all of the ones that border Wyoming, except Colorado.
I don’t understand. Wyoming and its conservative neighbors continually preach about states’ rights, and the fundamental premise states should be allowed to make their own decisions about guns within their borders.
Yet here we are telling New York it’s wrong; we and like-minded states know what’s best for the safety of its citizens. Support for the new, more restrictive gun laws don’t have universal support, but polls show 70 percent of New York residents back the law and “feel relieved and more secure.”
Can you imagine the uproar in the Cowboy State if a law with such overwhelming support here was challenged by the state of New York’s attorney general? The poor man would likely be burned in effigy, plus called a few choice names as the torches were lighted.
Wyoming also spearheaded an effort with 18 other states to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to consider their brief on behalf of John M. Drake (no relation to the writer), who was challenging a provision in New Jersey law that says people seeking a concealed-carry permit must prove to police they have a justifiable need.
Not surprisingly, The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, wrote an editorial that told Wyoming to mind its own business. A majority of its citizens support strong gun laws, the paper wrote, and others in the state have already lost similar legal challenges to New Jersey’s concealed-carry law.
“Most New Jerseyans don’t want to have to worry that the guy they’re fighting with over a parking spot might be packing heat,” the editorial stated. “That’s why you need to show justifiable need to carry a handgun here.”
The newspaper pointedly questioned whether people in Wyoming and other states want New Jersey meddling in their gun laws. It said states like Wyoming, with lax gun laws, “actually do threaten our citizens by making it easier for dangerous people to acquire guns and bring them back East.”
The editorial had a final zinger for our state officials. It said Wyoming is among the top states in rates of gun deaths per capita and supplying guns that are used in crimes in other states.
“So the problem isn’t our laws. It’s yours,” the Star-Ledger concluded.
The independent-minded, states’ rights-oriented residents of our state should respect New Jersey’s laws, as we expect the Garden State to respect ours. We live in far different environments, and to suggest that we know what’s best for the people who live there is offensive.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided it would not hear Drake’s case, so Wyoming’s attempt to inject itself into New Jersey’s laws went for naught. Meanwhile, even some die-hard gun-rights advocates have acknowledged the lawsuit challenging the New York SAFE Act probably isn’t going to be successful, either.
A federal judge in December upheld most of New York’s new gun control law, rejecting arguments that its bans on large-capacity magazines and the sale of popular semi-automatic rifles violate Second Amendment rights. Those provisions are constitutional, the judge ruled, because they’re related to achieving an “important governmental interest” in public safety. The law was adopted following the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Congress may have been too afraid of the National Rifle Association’s too-powerful lobby to actually do something to help prevent gun violence in our society – in particular mass killings by deranged people – but that threat didn’t stop New York lawmakers from acting. In fact, the SAFE Act, which places new restrictions on selling and buying guns, was passed by a wide bipartisan majority in New York’s two chambers, which are controlled by different parties.
Adam Winkler, UCLA law professor and constitutional expert, told North Country Public Radio in New York even conservative-leaning courts have backed tough gun laws.
“People keep thinking that the Second Amendment means that we’re not going to be able to regulate guns. That’s not the case now and has never been the case,” Winkler said.
So if the New Jersey case is over and the New York one may have the same result, what good has it done Wyoming to meddle where it’s been told to butt out?
It’s an election year, and it may be a cynical view, but signing on to two gun-rights lawsuits is certainly one way to shore up a politician’s support for the Second Amendment – particularly if it’s been questioned in the past.
When he ran for governor in 2010, Matt Mead took a brutal bashing from pro-gun bloggers who ridiculously claimed he was actually an anti-gun candidate.
While the charge never gained any traction beyond some rambling attacks on the Internet, and Mead was elected governor by a landslide, the criticism still seemed to sting him. In a March 2011 interview with WyoFile after the governor signed a bill allowing residents to carry a concealed gun without a permit – which he had been noncommittal about up to that point – Mead said he thought he had been unfairly treated by some gun-rights groups.
Mead had been blasted by several bloggers – especially Anthony Bouchard of the Wyoming Gun Owners Association – because he took the federal government’s side in several cases, including one in which Wyoming had restored the right to own a gun to people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. Of course he did, because he was the U.S. attorney at the time. That was his job.
But Bouchard has also been critical of Mead for not jumping onboard every piece of pro-gun legislation offered in the past three years. The governor dared to question an irresponsible bill that would allow all adults, including volunteers, to carry guns at school. Suggesting that police assigned as campus security should be the only ones armed was enough for gun proponents to charge Mead had betrayed the Second Amendment.
The lesson here for Mead and all Wyoming politicians is that the pro-gun lobby is so rabid, they can be branded as a traitor to the movement if they don’t support every gun bill, no matter how crazy it is. I know many politicians live in fear of being accused of wanting to restrict guns, or not getting an “A” rating from the NRA. But there’s no pleasing everyone who is pro-gun, especially the bunch who can’t forgive the slightest deviation from their extreme right-wing platform.
The excuse that Wyoming’s unwelcome incursion into the gun laws of New York and New Jersey was necessary because their laws could one day impact our residents’ right to keep and bear arms doesn’t hold water, but it effectively bought the governor some cover on the issue and likely scored some political points. But isn’t it time for politicians to stop kowtowing to every unreasonable demand the gun lobby makes? Nobody else is treated with that kind of reverence, and their schtick is really getting old.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is a contributor to WyoHistory.org. He also moderates the WyPols blog.
— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.