Battle of Eliminating Gun-Free Zones In Wyoming Will Continue, Opponents Vow

Rep. Jeremy Haroldson said he will continue to introduce legislation to eliminate gun-free zones in Wyoming until he wins. Meanwhile, a Wyoming chapter of a anti-gun group vows to continue to fight it every time its introduced.

Mark Heinz

March 10, 20235 min read

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Though another attempt at repealing Wyoming’s “gun-free” zones recently failed, the fight is far from over, say a proponent and opponent of the move. 

Meanwhile, changes to the state’s concealed carry permit regulations could be the key to at least some agreement. 

Eliminating gun-free zones across Wyoming “is the most frequent piece of legislation that we have had to defeat over the years,” Beth Howard of Cheyenne, a spokeswoman for gun safety advocacy group Moms Demand Action, told Cowboy State Daily. “That piece of legislation has come back around and back around and back around.”

Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, sponsored the latest iteration, House Bill 105, and said there already are plans to try again. 

“I’ll run it until I win,” he said. 

The Wyoming House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 6 voted 4-3 to give HB 105 a “do not pass” recommendation before forwarding it to the House, where it died the same day. 

Impassioned Testimony

Wyoming law allows for both open and concealed carry, without a permit, in most places. However, some public spaces and government buildings won’t allow private firearms. Some of those places include the Wyoming Capitol building in Cheyenne, county courthouses, city council meetings, school zones and the University of Wyoming campus. 

HB 105 sought to eliminate gun-free zones in public spaces while still allowing private businesses or property owners to ban guns at their own discretion.

There was impassioned testimony regarding that bill and a similar measure, Senate File 135, which died in the Senate on Feb. 6.

At one point, Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, said a disturbance in the Wyoming Senate Chamber made him wish he’d had his gun with him that day. 

And Haroldson said gun-free zones are essentially “soft zones” for murderers and mass shooters.

Others balked at the idea of allowing guns into the Capitol, in schools or similar spaces. 

During a recent school assembly about active-shooter safety drills, children were trying to grab police officer duty weapons, said Grady Hutcherson, president of the Wyoming Education Association, during testimony on House Bill 105

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

So, he said, it was terrifying to think how bad things could get if civilians were allowed to pack heat in schools. 

Effective, Or Not?

Moms Demand Action and others want gun-free zones to stay in place, Howard said. 

“I know it’s been characterized that more guns in more places keep people safer. But the evidence proves that’s not true, particularly with untrained people,” she said. 

Haroldson disagreed, noting that in other states such as Colorado and Utah have allowed on-campus carry without any major incidents. 

Needs Tweaking

Haroldson said he took some criticism of his previous bill to heart and will try to draft the next one toward gaining wider support.

“We’re going to do corrections and build up a cast to make it where it’s more palatable for people,” he said. “I don’t have the perfect solution. All I know is that I took a lot of notes, I have them on file, and once I’ve had a chance to have a life outside of legislation for a while, I’ll start working on legislation again.”

Training Could Be Key

An “enhanced concealed carry” permit system could be the key to overcoming fears about letting at least some people carry in current gun-free zones, Haroldson said. 

A bill that would allow only trained people with concealed carry permits to have weapons in what are now gun-free zones might have a better chance of passing, he said. 

He and Howard said that the current standard of counting completion of a Hunter Education course toward the training requirements for a concealed carry permit is flawed. 

The gun safety training for hunter education – which is offered through the Wyoming Game and Fish Department – involves the proper handling of hunting shotguns and rifles in the field. 

“There’s a very different training that applies to using a hunting rifle, as opposed to a handgun,” Howard said.

Haroldson agreed. 

For defensive handgun training, “You’re dealing proper holstering and unholstering of a weapon in an extremely stressful situation, and how to act once law enforcement arrives on the scene,” he said. 

So, dropping hunter education as a qualifier and requiring tactical pistol training, including live-fire drills, for concealed carry permit applicants would be a good idea, they said. 

“Why don’t we have one concealed carry permit type that is this (requiring training)?” Howard said. 

People who don’t know what they’re doing with firearms shouldn’t carry them for defense, Haroldson said. 

“I believed that an armed individual without proper training is dangerous,” he said. “Not because they have ill intent, but because they can make mistakes.”

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter