When a woman began acting in a hostile manner in the witness gallery of the Wyoming Senate Chambers early Thursday, Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, said that “my heart was racing.”
“The person looked very agitated and not right,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘I wish I had my gun.’ I should be able to protect myself.
“If that person had pulled a gun and started shooting at us, we would have been in serious trouble, because we’re law-abiding citizens and we left our guns at home.”
Civilians are forbidden to carry firearms into the Wyoming Capitol building in Cheyenne, and signs at the building’s entrances remind visitors of that prohibition.
Biteman made his remarks later Thursday as chairman of the Senate Revenue Committee during discussion about Senate File 135, which would allow people to concealed carry firearms in government buildings and to government meetings.
The bill passed the committee on a 4-1 vote.
Biteman voted for it, along with Sens. Tim French, R-Powell, Troy McKeown, R-Gillette, and Bob Ide, R-Casper. Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, voted against it.
However, allowing people to pack heat into public buildings and meetings is asking for trouble, argued Beth Howard of Cheyenne, spokeswoman for the gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action Wyoming.
Mass shootings are framed in terms of either “a mental health problem” or “a gun problem,” she said.
“It could be both” if a person with the intent to harm themselves or others is allowed to carry a firearm to public places, Howard said.
And even people with good intentions, but who aren’t properly trained, could end up hitting innocent bystanders if gunfire broke out in a public space, she said.
“I don’t want people who don’t know how to use a handgun to bring handguns into places like this,” she said.
She also said as politics have become increasingly heated, allowing guns into political spaces would be a terrible idea.
“Throwing guns into the mix makes an already combustible situation even more combustible, she said. “There are gun rights and there are gun wrongs, and this bill is all wrong.”
Bad Guys Don’t Care
McKeown responded to Howard’s points with a rhetorical question, asking whether it’s realistic to think that disturbed people or those with ill intent care about gun-free zones.
Would such a person think, “Oh, it’s illegal to carry a gun here, so I’m not going to do it?’” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Wyoming Gun Owners spokeswoman Michelle St. Louis, who testified via Zoom, with a rifle clearly visible in background.
She referenced the 2015 crossbow slaying of James Krumm, 56, who was murdered in a Casper College classroom by his son, Christopher Krumm, 25.
There and then, a weapons-free zone “sign did not save that man,” she said.
Let Local Boards Decide For Themselves
Others testified that decisions whether to allow firearms should be left up to local city councils, school boards and other affected entities.
Local school boards can decide whether to allow some school staff to be trained and armed to protect children, said Boyd Brown of the Wyoming School Board Association.
Campuses are “complex places” where trustees should set weapons policy, said Sheridan College Board of Trustees President Walter Tribley.
“There’s alcohol, there’s emotions” on campuses, he said. “Please respect the power of authority and responsibilities of our local trustees,” he said.
City and town councils should also decide for themselves, said Bob McLaurin, spokesman for the Wyoming Association of Municipalities.
“We’re not for guns, we’re not against guns. We’re for local control,” he said.
St. Louis disagreed.
Carrying a weapon “is a fundamental right, not a local decision,” she said.
Not The Only Gun-Free Zones Bill
Meanwhile, the Wyoming House is considering a similar measure.
House Bill 105 would allow eliminating gun-free zones in public and taxpayer-funded spaces across Wyoming.
It was introduced to the House on Jan. 25 and referred to the House Appropriations Committee.