The debate over whether Wyoming residents should be able to pack heat into the state Capitol in Cheyenne could heat up again during the pending legislative session.
Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that he plans to introduce another bill aimed at eliminating “gun-free zones” in Wyoming.
A similar measure he sponsored during last year’s session of the Wyoming Legislature died in the House Appropriations Committee.
Thats bill’s weak point was a failure to clarify the weapons policy for Wyoming’s jails and prisons, Haroldson said. But that’s been fixed, and the new bill clarifies that residents would still be forbidden to conceal-carry at correctional facilities.
“Another difference is that this new bill would allow teachers to concealed carry in schools,” Haroldson said. “That wasn’t included in last year’s bill.”
“The fact that Wyoming has gun-free zones is absolutely ludicrous,” he said, particularly considering that, for instance, Colorado allows for concealed carry on some university campuses.
There have been other previous attempts to eliminate gun-free zones in Wyoming. A 2019 bill that would have done so was killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The legislature’s 2024 session is set to begin Feb. 12. Because it’s a budget session, bills must have two-thirds majority approval to get introduced.
With the clarification that jails and prisons will remain gun-free, Haroldson said he’s optimistic that the 2024 bill will pass.
He bases that on his confidence that most Wyomingites agree with him that gun-free zones don’t make innocent people any safer, and just provide “soft targets” for criminals and mass murderers.
“In any school that has been eliminated from the ‘gun-free’ list, there has not been a shooting yet, 83% of mass shootings have been in gun-free zones,” he said. “The safest place on the planet is where a law-abiding citizen is present and armed.”
Some gun-free zones in Wyoming include public schools, the Capitol in Cheyenne and many other government buildings throughout the state, and the University of Wyoming campus.
The topic of allowing firearms in the Capitol came up during the 2023 session after a disturbance in the witness gallery of the Senate chamber.
At the time, Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, said the incident left him wishing he’d had a gun.
“The person (in the witness gallery) looked very agitated and not right,” he said at the time. “I was thinking, ‘I wish I had my gun.’ I should be able to protect myself.”
Haroldson said it only makes sense that legislators and other Wyoming residents should be able to conceal carry in the Capitol, noting that it’s allowed in many neighboring states’ capitol buildings.
Carry Permits Would Be Required
Wyoming is a constitutional carry state, which means residents are allowed to carry firearms — either openly or concealed — without a permit.
However, gun-free zones still exist here, because Wyoming statutes allow for business, schools and some public institutions to decide for themselves whether to allow firearms.
Proponents of that approach argue that it protects the Second Amendment rights of gun owners while also recognizing the autonomy and property rights of businesses or organizations that don’t want to allow guns.
However, proponents of eliminating gun-free zones say that still violates the Second Amendment.
Haroldson said his bill, while eliminating gun-free zones in places such as schools or government buildings, would still require people to hold a concealed carry permit to take their guns into those places.
That’s because of federal law. The federal government “doesn’t recognize constitutional carry” as implemented by states such as Wyoming, he said.
“Legally, it has to be that way. The federal law will not allow anybody to carry in schools without a state-authorized permit, and our Wyoming concealed-carry permit qualifies as such,” Haroldson said.
Wyoming concealed-carry permits are issued through sheriff’s offices. They require fingerprinting and background checks.
So, they also provide another layer of vetting for people seeking authorization to carry concealed firearms in formerly gun-free zones, should the bill pass and be signed into law, Haroldson said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.