By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
Beth Howard is trying to change what she believes are misconceptions about the difference between gun safety and gun control in Wyoming.
“We don’t want to take your guns,” Howard said. “We want to advocate for the people who have guns. There should be some level of safety for the public in knowing those who have guns, should have them.”
Howard is the Wyoming legislative lead for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a national organization that promotes itself as a gun safety, not gun control organization.
“We’re not opposing the Second Amendment in any way, we’re just advocating for safety,” Howard said. “Using the word gun control has a chilling effect.”
In the conservative state of Wyoming, getting this message across can often be a challenge, Howard said. But she also said her group has made strides working with many Republican lawmakers on legislation. The GOP holds a clear majority in the legislature.
“I don’t know that they’d say they’re working with us but we do consider ourselves to be working with them because we know that’s the only way they’ll (bills) pass or fail,” Howard said with a chuckle. “By having Republican support.”
The term ‘gun safety’ may carry a different definition depending on who you talk to.
Howard remembered one conversation she had with a state senator who told her gun safety represented the right to keep a loaded firearm on their kitchen table.
Contrastly, others like her, consider gun safety to represent protecting the public from gun-related harm.
The Moms Demand Action Wyoming chapter has been active since 2008, with a statewide volunteer crew.
One of the group’s biggest opponents has been Second Amendment lobbying group Wyoming Gun Owners.
Aaron Dorr, director of WyGO, described Moms Demand Action as “a group of bitter, self-loathing leftists who want to disarm every gun owner in the country.”
“Real moms love their kids and are ready and willing to protect them from criminals,” he said.
In 2021, the Mothers Demand Action helped defeat WyGO’s Second Amendment Preservation Act and two bills that would have allowed people to bring lawsuits against law enforcement agencies and officers for enforcing federal gun regulations.
These were bills the mothers group considered “dangerous gun bills.”
This past year, WyGO’s Second Amendment Preservation Act, two bills that would have allowed people to bring lawsuits against made law enforcement agencies and officers vulnerable to lawsuits for enforcing federal gun regulations, also did not pass.
“I’m seeing more success both locally and nationally,” Howard said, adding she has seen more delineation in the media between gun control and gun safety.
Enacting universal background checks is a high priority for Moms Demand Action in Wyoming. According to the Pew Research Center, 81% of Americans support universal background checks and the vast amount of Americans also support the right of private citizens to own guns.
Still, pro-gun and Second Amendment groups have railed against efforts to pass universal background check laws, many using the ‘slippery slope’ argument that they will lead to more restrictions down the road.
“It’s my opinion they feel any gun safety law is an infringement on their Second Amendment rights and will lead to confiscation of weapons, even though there’s no evidence that one thing automatically leads to the other,” Howard said.
Currently, people can circumnavigate even the most basic background checks in Wyoming by purchasing firearms at gun shows. This “gunshow loophole” argument used by those favoring gun control carries a lot of heated baggage. I would at least have Howard saying it.
“You don’t know who’s buying those weapons,” Howard said.
Background Checks Don’t Work
WyGO opposes universal background checks of any kind.
“WyGO has always opposed ‘universal background checks’ because gun owners should never have to be tracked, traced and registered like a sex offender to exercise our God-given constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms,” Dorr said.
In 2019, a “Fix NICS” bill came before the state legislature that would have prevented only some people with mental illnesses from buying guns. Howard sees preventing the mentally ill from buying firearms as the top priority for all gun safety legislation.
Not only did the bill not pass, but two of the three Republicans who voted for it, Bill Pownall and Dan Kirkbride, lost in their 2020 reelection campaigns.
“That’s sort of a warning to people considering bringing gun safety bills forward,” Howard said.
Improving mental health has often been used as a solution by gun proponents to address mass shooting events and other gun-related deaths, as an alternative solution to enacting gun control measures.
“Regardless of how much money you say you’re going to spend on mental health, if you’re not actually reporting the information for who should not be buying those weapons, they are still likely to fall into the hands of those who should not be able to buy weapons,” Howard said. “If your state is not participating in that, you’re not providing the most basic protection to your citizens.”
The suspect in the recent Uvalde, Texas shooting legally bought the AR-style rifle he allegedly used in the attack.
“Almost every mass shooting over the last decade was carried out by a madman who first passed a background check,” Dorr said. “These checks don’t stop criminals, they only register gun owners.”
Howard said her organization’s membership grows every time there is a mass shooting event, particularly those involving children.
“When these things keep happening over and over again and they happen more in our nation than anybody’s else’s nation, there is some change that’s needed,” she said. “People get it.”
Many pro-gun advocates used the Uvalde shooting as ammunition for the push to arm teachers in schools.
Under current Wyoming law, school districts can decide individually if they want to allow teachers to earn certification to carry arms in the classroom. Two Wyoming school districts currently allow this.
“If more guns were going to keep us safer, we would already be the safest nation in the world,” Howard said. “Instead, we have the most egregious record in all developed nations of gun homicides and mass shootings.”
Howard anticipates future legislation allowing conceal and carry use in gun-free zones and teachers statewide to decide whether they would like to arm themselves, two measures her group opposes.
“You will not find any evidence anywhere that more guns in more places is providing safety,” Howard said.
According to Every Town, a gun safety organization that promotes safe storage of guns, 125 people die per year in Wyoming from guns. At a rate of 21.2 deaths per 100,000, Wyoming has the sixth highest gun fatality rate in the country. It also has the highest gun suicide rate in the country at 18 deaths per 100,000 and the highest overall suicide rate in the nation.
In a state with one of the highest suicide rates and where 86% of firearm deaths occur by suicide, she said change is sorely needed.
“I think being No. 1 for suicide, we have a responsibility to keep both children and adults safer,” Howard said. “Trying to keep people from getting their hands on a firearm unless they really need to use it for prevention, is gun safety, keeping unintended shootings from happening.”
This Friday is National Gun Violence Awareness and Prevention Day, and this weekend is Wear Orange Weekend, a two-day event promoting gun violence prevention and awareness.