By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
Even though it was approved by the Legislature more than three months ago, Wyoming’s Second Amendment Protection Act (SAPA) continues to divide members of the state’s Republican Party, causing infighting and caucus snubs between members.
Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette said on Facebook that his fellow Gillette Representative Bill Fortner and Rep. Bob Wharff, R-Evanston, have been kicked out of the House Freedom Caucus because “they abandoned us at a time when we are making real headway toward a more conservative legislature.”
Although Bear later told Cowboy State Daily on Friday the two were removed from the caucus because they are now running for the state Senate, the fact remains they also were not invited to a recent Gun Owners of America (GOA) dinner event.
“They were not invited because they … have made numerous disparaging remarks about GOA with little or no back up or details,” Bear said on Facebook.
Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell also was taken off the caucus since he’s running for the Senate.
Wharff said he hasn’t been kicked out of the Freedom Caucus and is leaving on his own volition.
Bouchard vs Bear
Also joining the fray is Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, who jumped in on the debate with an invitation to Bear to debate the merits of the Second Amendment Protection Act bill, a bill Bear voted for that passed last session. Bouchard referred to SAPA, Senate File 102, as a “nothing burger” and a “fake bill.”
He stoked the flames on Facebook Thursday, encouraging Bear to debate him if, “you think you can handle it.”
The dispute stems from the Legislature’s review during its budget session this year of two bills designed to allow Wyoming to resist gun control measures that may be issued by the federal government.
The bill that was ultimately passed, SF 102, prohibits the enforcement of federal firearms regulations on Wyoming citizens. Under the law, the state and all political subdivisions are prohibited from using any personnel or state funds to enforce, administer or cooperate with any federal rule that unconstitutionally infringes on or impedes the Second Amendment.
But Bouchard, who sponsored a competing bill, said the Second Amendment Protection Act has no language to prevent criminals from using the statute to defend themselves against firearms charges and only allows criminal penalties against government offiidals who enforce the federal rules.
Neither provides sufficient protection for Second Amendment rights, he said.
“Politicians run ‘do nothing’ bills that have a great name, but do nothing more than regurgitate language that is strikingly similar to political promises,” he said on Facebook. “To the bad actors, the ‘shorter’ the bill, the better. They want you to read the words—while ‘imagining’ the national anthem is playing in the background.”
Bouchard’s own Second Amendment Preservation Act failed on introduction in the Senate on a vote of 20-9.
This bill also would have prohibited officials from enforcing or attempt to enforce any federal laws or acts that infringe on the Second Amendment, but with the caveat that residents could sue law enforcement officers who tried to enforce the rules. It would also carry a civil penalty for those violating the law.
Every Wyoming sheriff opposed Bouchard’s bill and instead support SF102, which was drafted by Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, a longtime legislative adversary of Bouchard.
Only 13 states have a SAPA bill and Bear said Wyoming’s has the strongest language with a criminal penalty.
The sparring over these two bills ran parallel to factions created by GOA and fellow Second Amendment group Wyoming Gun Owners. Wharff and Bouchard are prominently linked to WyGO, which supported Bouchard’s bill, while Bear and Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan are associated with GOA.
This divide also recently surfaced in the form of two separate letters sent to U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, demanding they not support gun control legislation currently moving through Congress.
The first of the letters was written by the House Freedom Caucus while the second was spearheaded by Bouchard and Wharff. The timing and authorship of the two different letters created a public rift among firearms rights advocates.
Bouchard, who is running for the U.S. House against U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and Harriet Hageman, said factions in the congressional race also link to the recent gun bill debate.
He said Hageman supporters are rallying behind SF102, the bill approved by the Legislature. Bear has endorsed Hageman and spoke at her May rally with former President Donald Trump.
Bear said he would be willing to debate Bouchard on Aug. 17, the day after the Republican primary election, but also tossed out July 30, Aug.6 and Aug. 13 as other possible dates.
“I also would prefer sooner than later, but as I stated before, you sir are in a competitive race and should be concentrating on that,” he told Bouchard.
Bear said although he’s proud to be a member of a party of “free thinkers,” he finds that the Republican Party has more visible division than the Democratic Party, which he considers to be “group thinkers.”
“Our disputes tend to be more public,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “I think unity in politics is important as it’s the only way to get things done. The more unity the better.”