Wyomingites wanting to just grab a couple of friends and go target shooting could potentially be breaking the law if a federal bill introduced by a Massachusetts senator passes.
The Preventing Private Paramilitary Act of 2024 could potentially be used to ban just about any gun-related activity, Cody firearms instructor Bill Tallen told Cowboy State Daily.
“It would shut down even any three individuals going to the gun range to practice with firearms,” he said.
Supposedly Meant To Curb Extremism
The bill, U.S. Senate File 3589, was introduced last month by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts.
The bill’s stated intent is curb or prevent the formation and activities of armed extremist groups. Numerous loosely organized groups calling themselves “militias” sprang up around the county in the 1990s, and some remain active.
By strict definition, a militia is “maintained and raised by the state, and must answer to the governor,” Tallen said.
So, impromptu groups don’t qualify as actual militias.
Moreover, Wyoming already has a law on the books prohibiting unauthorized paramilitary groups, he said, although nobody has apparently ever been prosecuted under it.
That Wyoming law dates back to the 19th century and the Johnson County cattle wars, Tallen said. It was in response to some of the belligerent parties bringing in groups of hired guns in hopes of tipping the conflict in their favor.
But unlike Wyoming’s law, Markey’s bill is vague and wide open to abuse, he said.
For example, it would prohibit any group to “publicly patrol, drill or engage in techniques capable of causing bodily injury or death.”
“That could apply to pressing the trigger on any firearm ever invented,” Tallen said.
Beyond the implications of broadly applied criminal law, the bill could open gun owners up to civil lawsuits, Tallen said. It would allow people to take “civil actions” against those they consider to be armed extremists.
“If anybody observes you doing anything that they could construe as a violation of this act, they could file a civil action against you,” he said. “If you have a shotgun in the gun rack of your truck, they could file a civil suit against you. And no matter how that turned out, it could still end up costing you thousands of dollars.”
Bill Contradicts Itself
The bill also would make it unlawful to “interfere with, interrupt or attempt to interfere with or interrupt government operations or a government proceeding.”
Or to “interfere with or intimidate another person in that person's exercise of any right under the Constitution of the United States.”
The latter is self-contradictory, Tallen said, because the bill alone could lead to the violation of people’s Second Amendment Rights.
And the language about “interrupting” government operations or proceedings is also far too vague, and could be used to trample First Amendment rights, he added.
Would Likely End Clay Target Shooting Team
Tallen said that if the bill passed Congress and was signed into law by the president, it would probably spell the end of his tactical training business.
Wyoming law allows school districts to decide whether they’d like some of their staff to be properly trained and armed. He contracts with some school districts to train or employees who choose to be armed.
That includes “live-fire drills” and other training that surely would be defined as “paramilitary” activity under the bill, Tallen said.
He also wonders how it could affect student activities, such as Cheyenne East High School’s trap and skeet clay target shooting team.
If the Paramilitary Act became law, Tallen bets the team would be shut down.
The trap and skeet team students “could be sued, their families could be sued, their coach and school district could be sued,” Tallen said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.