Showdown Over Guns In State Capitol: “Gun-Free Zones Are Soft Zones For Mass Shooters”

Although a spokesperson for anti-gun group said permitting concealed carry in public spaces could create shootouts, Rep. Jeremy Haroldson said allowing citizens to carry arms wouldn't spawn gunfights, it would discourage would-be mass murderers.

Mark Heinz

February 04, 20234 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The possibility of a disturbance at the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne escalating into a “shootout” – and school children trying to grab police officers’ weapons during an assembly – are examples of why letting people carry firearms in public spaces is a bad idea, argue opponents of legislation that would allow it. 

But supporters of House Bill 105 said it would enable people to defend themselves and acutally make those public places safter. 

Wishing For A Gun

A legislator “saying he wished he’d had his gun” during a disturbance in the Wyoming Senate Chamber on Thursday is an example of why guns should continue to be banned there, said Beth Howard of Cheyenne, a spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action Wyoming. 

She was refereeing to remarks made by Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, during a discussion of Senate File 135 which, similar to House Bill 105, would allow concealed carry permit holders to take firearms into government buildings and meetings. 

Biteman said the disturbance made him realize how helpless he and other legislators would be if a hostile person ever decided to open fire on them.

Senate File 135 passed through committee and will go before the full Senate. 

Similar Bill, Similar Arguments

On Friday, Howard joined others offering impassioned testimony on both sides of House Bill 105, which would allow for permitted concealed carry in many other public spaces, including schools and the University of Wyoming Campus. 

Allowing citizens to carry arms in public spaces won’t spawn gunfights; instead, it would actually discourage would-be mass murderers, said the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, while testifying before the House Appropriations Committee. 

“Those ‘gun-free zones’ are essentially ‘soft zones’” for mass shooters,” he said. 

The committee early Friday afternoon had to cut testimony short and took no action on the bill, as the House reconvened to continue discussing the state’s supplemental budget. 

Kids Try To Grab Cops’ Weapons

During a recent school assembly about active-shooter safety drills, children were trying to grab police officer’s duty weapons, said Grady Hutcherson, president of the Wyoming Education Association. 

“I saw multiple students reaching and grabbing for the holstered weapons of law enforcement officers,” he said. “I was appalled.”

So, he can only imagine how bad things could get if untrained civilians could bring firearms into schools. 

“The idea of bringing more guns into schools frightens me to death,” he said. 

Uinta County resident and retired educator Barb Cook, also representing Moms Demand Action, offered some grim statistics.

“The presence of guns always makes people more aggressive,” she said. “We know easy access to firearms triples the risk of death by suicide and doubles the risk of death by homicide.”

Fears Unfounded

However, such fears are unfounded, said Mark Jones of Buffalo, spokesman for Gun Owners Of America.

Permitted concealed carry is allowed in public buildings and on campuses in numerous other states and there have been “no incidents” because of it, he said. 

Like Haroldson, he emphasized that most mass shootings take place in gun-free zones, where people can’t defend themselves. 

Moreover, concealed carry permit holders commit fewer crimes per capita than most other demographics, including police officers, he said. 

UW Doesn’t Want Guns On Campus, Student Says

Even so, University of Wyoming students want to keep the status quo with firearms regulations on campus and oppose HB 105, said Caitlin Heddins, representing the Associated Students of UW. 

Students living in on-campus dormitories are still allowed to own firearms, but they must keep them in lockers at the UW police station. They can check them out as needed for hunting or target shooting and check them back in when they’re done, Heddins said. 

Most UW students feel safer on campus because of that, Heddins said.

Let Them Decide For Themselves

HB 105 would allow business owners and other private entities to decide for themselves whether to allow firearms on their property, Haroldson said. 

That would include nonprofit organizations like churches, said Haroldson, who is a pastor. 

“We offer training for anybody who would like to carry in our congregation,” he said, adding the church would still retain the right to ban guns as it sees fit. 

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter