Wyoming Caucus Blasts Freedom Caucus Republicans For Killing Firearms Bill

Rep. Barry Crago blasted the Freedom Caucus on Friday for voting against a bill aimed to protect Wyomingites from being tracked for buying and owning firearms. "The same legislators who claim to be principled staunch advocates for the Second Amendment then turn around and vote against it," he said.

Leo Wolfson

February 16, 20247 min read

Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo
Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

The Wyoming Freedom Caucus was naming names Thursday, and on Friday the Wyoming Caucus clapped back by naming some of their own.

Members of the Wyoming Freedom Caucus voted to defeat a bill brought by a prominent member of the rival Republican House group Wyoming Caucus, Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo.

Crago’s House Bill 151 aimed to protect Wyomingites from being tracked for buying and owning firearms and to address concerns about potential discrimination by financial institutions against credit card transactions related to firearms.

"In the dance of politics, hypocrisy often leads the waltz, with principles left waiting in the wings," Crago said in a Wyoming Caucus press release Friday morning. "The same legislators who claim to be principled staunch advocates for the Second Amendment then turn around and vote against it."

The vote to kill HB 151 came a day after the Freedom Caucus called out 19 Republicans for voting against the Freedom Caucus-backed What Is A Woman Act, which would have defined people’s sex as male or female by their biology at birth.

The Freedom Caucus turned back Crago’s bill because it doesn’t go far enough and Wyoming shouldn’t compromise when it comes to firearms policy, said Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, who chairs the Freedom Caucus.

That’s not the way the Wyoming Caucus sees it, however, questioning in its press release the Freedom Caucus’ dedication to the Second Amendment and conservative values. It also listed the 22 House Republicans who voted against HB 151:

  • Rep. Bill Allemand, Midwest
  • Rep. Ocean Andrew, Laramie
  • Rep. John Bear, Gillette
  • Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, Wheatland
  • Rep. Scott Heiner, Green River
  • Rep. Ben Hornok, Cheyenne
  • Rep. Mark Jennings, Sheridan
  • Rep. Chris Knapp, Gillette
  • Rep. Tony Locke, Casper
  • Rep. Chip Neiman, Hulett
  • Rep. Pepper Ottman, Riverton
  • Rep. Ken Pendergraft, Sheridan
  • Rep. Sarah Penn, Lander
  • Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, Cody
  • Rep. Daniel Singh, Cheyenne
  • Rep. Allen Slagle, Newcastle
  • Rep. Scott Smith, Lingle
  • Rep. Toni Strock, Douglas
  • Rep. Clarence Styvar, Cheyenne
  • Rep. Tamara Trujillo, Cheyenne
  • Rep. Jeanette Ward, Casper
  • Rep. John Winter, Thermopolis

Three of the five House Democrats also voted to support Crago’s bill. The entire Freedom Caucus and two Democrats voted against it.

HB 151 passed on a 37-24 vote, missing the two-thirds hurdle required for introduction by five votes.

Reps. John Bear, R-Gillette, left, and Barry Crago, R-Buffalo.
Reps. John Bear, R-Gillette, left, and Barry Crago, R-Buffalo. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

About The Bill

Nephi Cole, director of government relations and state affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said Crago’s bill was solid and sound.

“This was a good bill that ended up in the crosshairs of a political fight,” Cole said in the press release. “This bill prohibited tracking firearms purchases, it penalized discriminating against firearms merchants, and it provided real protection for Wyoming gun owners. We’re very disappointed that a bill that fought for Wyoming became a victim in this case.”

Crago’s bill would have targeted efforts by certain financial institutions to track purchases made at firearms retailers. This collected information can theoretically be used by a consumer at a later date.

HB 151 would have prevented entities from keeping any list, record or registry of privately owned firearms, people who own these firearms, or customers who buy firearms to be privately owned.

How It Worked

HB 151 would have prevented entities from assessing a category code that identifies a business exclusively as a firearms retailer. The code assigned would not apply to the actual items bought, but rather the location where it’s bought.

Thus, any purchase at a firearms retailer could only be coded as a sporting goods retailer or another generic identifier.

Bear said he received information from certain firearms industry lobbyists that Crago’s bill was supplanted from a piece of legislation originating in Ohio and doesn’t do enough to protect privacy.

“I just don’t think that’s a Wyoming solution for a Wyoming problem,” Bear said.

Haroldson expressed concern on the House floor that loopholes and overcomplications exist in Crago’s bill that could lead to its exploitation.

“It almost hides it or masks it instead of turning around and creating the structure you’re talking about in this bill,” he said.

Rodriguez-Williams went further, describing the bill as filled with “weasel words” like “good faith.” That comment drew a reprimand from House Speaker Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale.

Rodriguez-Williams also expressed concern that the legislation is limited to protecting residents of Wyoming instead of all purchasers.

Crago said these aren’t loopholes and his legislation was crafted in a way so that it doesn’t conflict with the federal Interstate Commerce Clause.

“We can’t regulate what happens all over the rest of the country, otherwise it would be unconstitutional,” he said on the House floor.

Freedom Caucus Bill

Bear said he and the Freedom Caucus members are much more supportive of a similar piece of legislation.

This is Allemand’s House Bill 182, which would serve the same overall purpose as Crago’s, but is viewed as more narrow and strict by certain members of the Freedom Caucus.

A version of this bill was proposed during the 2023 legislative session.

Any person found guilty of violating Crago’s bill could be liable to a civil penalty carrying up to a $10,000 fine.

Anyone who violates HB 182 can be found guilty of a misdemeanor charge carrying up to $1,000 for each category code that they violate.

Just like with Crago’s bill, HB 182 will need a two-thirds majority to advance. It was likely to be considered Friday afternoon in the House. Crago said he’ll vote to support it.

Pass Now, Perfect Later

Sommers, who voted to support Crago’s bill, said lawmakers should show some willingness to make compromises on bills at the introduction stage so they can be given the chance to be improved along the legislative process.

“Sometimes, these really tough bills … I’ll put in the time to try and make them better,” he said.

Sommers mentioned how he also voted to support the introduction of the What Is A Woman Act, legislation that would have defined what is male and female based on the sex of an individual at birth.

The bill was strikingly similar to legislation passed in South Carolina, and Sommers said he had major problems with it as he didn’t believe it conformed well with existing Wyoming law. So, he spent some time Thursday studying the bill to see if he could make it better.

“I spent over an hour yesterday pulling it apart and trying to reconstruct it to make it work so if it did get introduced, we’d have a bill that’d function that we could really sink our teeth into,” he said. “That’s part of the process.”

Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, agrees and said he’s voted for more than 90% of bills on introduction during his time in the Legislature.

“As a whole, I believe you can amend most bills and debate whether they make law,” he said. “Usually, the bills get fixed.”

Bear disagrees and takes more of a no-comprises approach to the legislative process.

He believes if a bill starts out looking bad, it’s not great practice to try and improve it throughout the legislative process.

“It’s always a good principle to start with a good bill, even if it doesn’t end up good, then to take a bad bill and try to make a good bill out of it,” Bear said.

He believes certain legislators are bringing proposals they can promote along the campaign trail later this year, but don’t really solve the problems they claim to solve.

“We believe it’s more important to actually get something done for the people, rather than to just have it as some window dressing,” Bear said.

Bear also said due to the size of his Freedom Caucus membership, they must defeat bills when they get the chance. After a bill moves past the introduction stage, all it needs is a majority vote to keep advancing.

“That’s really the only time we can determine the direction of a bill, is on introduction,” he said.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter