Bill Giving Gun Rights Back To Nonviolent Felons Headed To Governor’s Desk

The Wyoming Senate won out over the state House of Representatives and now will send to Gov. Mark Gordon's desk a bill restoring nonviolent felons' gun and other rights five years after they complete their sentence, rather than immediately as the House majority hoped.

Clair McFarland

March 03, 20233 min read

Collage Maker 03 Mar 2023 12 35 PM 4188
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A bill giving back gun, jury, and office-holding rights to nonviolent felons in Wyoming is headed to the governor’s desk.   

Senate File 120 became an enrolled act Friday after it passed both chambers of the state Legislature.

But the bill overcame a roadblock Thursday when the House and Senate agreed to do things the Senate’s way, and reinstate a five-year waiting period for felons before restoring their rights. The House and Senate originally disagreed on this point.

The House earlier this week had tried to remove the five-year waiting period, which was in the bill during an earlier phase. The removal succeeded by one vote, 28-27.   

The Senate didn’t like that change, refusing to concur with the amendment in a 25-5 vote against it.   

Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, and Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, co-chaired a joint conference committee that met Thursday to find a solution that would work for both chambers.   

That solution was to restore the five-year waiting period.   

“I think it’s important to have a period of demonstrated rehabilitation and reform, I do,” said Oakley Friday while urging her House colleagues to agree with the Senate. “I never thought I’d be someone up here fighting for felons’ rights… But this is a bill that will help out some Wyomingites and that’s what we’re here to do.”   

Sneaky Gun Control  

Some Republicans in the state House battled Senate File 120 this week because the bill would remove gun rights from nonviolent felons on a state level, while only federal law removed those gun rights before.

Bill proponents cited federal law as the reason for inserting the gun-rights removal language. Federal statute 18 U.S. C. § 921 says civil rights restoration only applies “if the law of the applicable jurisdiction provides for the loss of civil rights under such an offense.”    

“You have to have that nexus,” said bill sponsor Sen. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette. “It’s hard to restore something we didn’t actually take away, because of the way the federal government is now handling this.”   

As A State  

One change the House made which stayed with the bill was a provision letting prosecutors charge Wyoming’s nonviolent felons with a misdemeanor, if they’re found with a gun before their rights are restored.   

Landen told the joint conference committee that the Senate liked that change.

Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, advocated this provision as a way of handling such people on a state level rather than handing them over to federal authorities for prosecution.   

Washut is a former police officer and a criminal justice educator. 

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter