House Advances Bill Restoring Gun, Civil Rights To Nonviolent Felons

The Wyoming House of Representatives on Monday advanced legislation that would restore nonviolent felons' gun and civil rights, but bill opponents worried about a provision that would take away those same rights under state law.

Clair McFarland

February 28, 20233 min read

Senate Corp Eric Barlow 1 27 23

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that while Senate File 120 proposes to restore civil and gun rights to nonviolent felons, the voting-rights restoration mechanism already was in law.

The Wyoming House of Representatives is on its way to passing a bill that restores civil and gun rights to nonviolent felons.    

Senate File 120 proposes to restore gun, office-holding and jury rights to nonviolent felons five years after they complete their sentences. The state House on Monday approved the first reading of the bill and is two more readings away from sending it back to the Senate for final approval.  The bill would then go to the governor’s desk to become law if he signed it.   

Wyoming law removes voting and other civil rights from all felons – nonviolent and violent alike. It’s federal law, not state law, however, that removes felons’ gun rights.    

Guns, Guns, Guns   

Bill sponsor Sen. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, told the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 21 that for Wyoming to give nonviolent felons’ gun rights back, the state has to take them away officially. So the bill contains language taking guns away from nonviolent felons, and language restoring those rights, as well as language restoring civil rights.    

Barlow said his studies of case law on the matter have indicated that that’s the proper route for the legislation. He said there’s a Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on which he based the bill. Barlow did not respond to a Cowboy State Daily email and text seeking more details about the case.    

A few Republican lawmakers on Monday disputed the language that would take gun rights away. There must be a better way to restore felons’ gun rights, they said.    

“It’s been contended here that that’s the only way we can turn around and restore someone’s gun rights,” said Rep. Ken Pendergraft, R-Sheridan, during the House debate on SF 120. He added that he’s spoken with legal experts on the topic and believes “there is another way. And all I’m asking is a little bit of patience.”   

Pendergraft urged his fellow representatives to delay the bill for another session and study the topic further.    

That’s Expungement   

Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, argued for the bill as a way to help nonviolent felons reintegrate into society and thereby avoid lives of crime.    

She answered Pendergraft by saying the state has explored alternative routes to restoring civil rights.   

“The other way to do this, it’s expungement,” said Provenza, adding that Wyoming can use that option. “We just erase your criminal history; it’s not there anymore,” she said. “Folks weren’t too keen on that because we’re suppressing your criminal record.”    

Provenza said SF 120, conversely, would still present people’s criminal records but would restore their rights.    

Some Tweaks   

The House adopted an amendment that would revoke felons’ restored rights if they commit another felony. But the House rejected an amendment by Rep. Ken Chestek, D-Laramie, that he said would have revoked someone’s restoration for at least 10 years if that person committed a domestic violence misdemeanor.   

Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, asked the House to vote Chestek’s amendment down because she said its wording was confusing and it should be brought as a separate bill.    

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter