Wyoming State Senate Committee Kills Bill Eliminating Gun-Free Zones

After passionate testimony on both sides, the Wyoming Senate Judiciary Committee late Monday evening rejected a bill that would have eliminated the state’s gun-free zones by a 3-2 margin. In stark contrast, the House passed the bill 57-4.

MH
Mark Heinz

March 05, 20245 min read

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UPDATE: Driskill Calls Effort To Revive Gun-Free Zone Bill "Absolutely Idiocy"

After passionate testimony on both sides and extensive suggested amendments, the Wyoming Senate Judiciary Committee late Monday evening rejected a bill that would have eliminated the state’s gun-free zones.

The final vote on House Bill 125 was 3-2. Sens. Cale Case, R-Lander, and Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, voted for the measure. Sens. Dan Furphy, R-Laramie, and Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston voted against it.

When his tie-breaking turn to vote was called, committee Chairman Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, paused thoughtfully for several seconds before saying “no.”

“You made me do all that work!” Case shouted jokingly, referencing the extensive amendments he’d offered that seemingly addressed misgivings about the bill.

His remark caused an outburst of laughter in the room, where numerous people had testified both for and against the bill, dragging the session late into the night.

The bill’s death in the Senate committee stood in stark contrast to its strong approval in the House, which passed it 57-4.

Nobody Ever Asked

During discussion of the bill, Landen said his main concern was that it seemed too vague when it came to how it might affect things on college campuses, because he’d been present during a campus shooting.

“I’m the only person in this room that’s been through a school shooting. I was on campus a couple of hundred yards away when a shooter came on that campus and took out one of our instructors and then ultimately took out himself,” Landen said. “And I’m telling you, folks. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had my pistol there. I wouldn’t have had the time. It was a done deal. About that fast,” then snapping his fingers to illustrate the point.

“Nobody’s ever come to me who advocates for these bills and ever sat down with me and talked to me about that day or what happened or how it happened or what my observations are. I just find that interesting. I’m the only one who’s been through one. I don’t know if this makes a difference,” Landen added.

Case’s amendments would have clarified that open carry would still be forbidden on campuses. And they also would have specified that the “governing body” of a school district, college or university would retain authority to decide who would be able to carry a firearm, with a concealed carry permit, on their grounds.

Not Infringing On Property Rights

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jeremey Haroldson, R-Wheatland, opened the testimony by making a strong case for the bill.

He reiterated the argument he used to push it through the House that most mass shootings take place in gun-free zones. So the ultimate goal would be to make Wyoming’s schools and other public spaces safer.

Under the measure, private businesses and property owners would have retained the right to restrict or forbid firearms on their premises, he said.

“We’re not infringing upon private property rights here,” he said.

Schuler asked Haroldson, that with so many steps already taken to make schools safer, does Wyoming still need HB 125?

“Absolutely not, until we definitely do,” Haroldson responded.

“There’s a little school in Texas who thought they were fine too,” he added, referencing the 2022 school massacre in Uvalde, Texas.

‘God-Given Right To Protect Ourselves’

Echoing the sentiments of others who testified in favor of the bill, Aaron Dorr of Wyoming Gun Owners said gun-free zones just make it easier for violent criminals, while making legal gun owners’ rights circumstantial.

“Our members are sick and tired of watching violent criminals walking into gun-free zones and murdering people who can’t fight back,” he said.

Gun Owners of America lobbyist Mark Jones of Buffalo said HB 125 would affirm the natural right to self-defense and defense of loved ones.

“We have a God-given right to protect ourselves. If I go see my daughter in a play at church, I have a God-given right to protect her,” he said.

He and others pointed out that other states, including Colorado and Utah, allow for concealed carry on college campuses or in state capitol buildings.

Guns Belong In Trained Hands

Several others testified that firearms shouldn’t be allowed in schools, unless they’re in the hands of people with proper training.

That point was made strongly by Peter Howard, a parent and combat veteran.

“I’m tired of legislators and lobbyists talking about firearms like they’re life preservers on the side of a pool. I’m tired of hearing about it, because guns are instruments of death and they need to be in trained hands,” he said.

Others argued that Wyoming law is good as it stands, because the decision whether to train and arm school staff is left up to individual school districts.

Local control over firearms has a long history in Wyoming, said Justin Schilling, spokesman for the Wyoming Association of Municipalities.

During the “literal Wild West” days, many Wyoming communities restricted or banned the carrying of firearms, starting with Cheyenne in 1867, he said.

“We’re neither for nor against guns. We’re for local control,” Schilling said.

Sheridan College President Walt Tribley said he has serious misgivings about allowing firearms in campus residents halls, particularly if students had been drinking.

It would be too easy for an accident to turn into a tragedy, he said.

“A 9 mm round, full metal jacket, will go through a wall. An elk round, .300 Winchester Magnum with a stout bullet, will go through several walls,” he said.

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Mark Heinz

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