Tom Lubnau: Can Someone Be Against Gun Free Zones, And Against A Poorly Written Bill?

Columnist Tom Lubnau writes, "For some readers, only the bill title, 'Gun Free Zones' is enough to garner support.  For those folks who don’t care about the language of the bill, don’t waste your time reading why the bill had some defects. If you are interested in why the bill was vetoed, read further."

Tom Lubnau

March 26, 20248 min read

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The legislature passed HB 125 bill with defects.  Now, they are trying to deflect scrutiny from them to the governor.

 For a whole series of reasons, the legislation was poorly drafted from the start, and it was inevitable a veto would be necessary.

 For some readers, only the bill title, “Gun Free Zones” is enough to garner support.  For those folks who don’t care about the language of the bill, don’t waste your time reading why the bill had some defects. 

 If you are interested in why the bill was vetoed, read further.

The legislature’s job is to draft and pass laws.   The job is not to sit around the campfire and pontificate.  The job of a legislator is not to shout soundbites about the constitution to the news media. 

The job of the legislature is to craft language in our laws that makes sense, is understandable and workable in our daily lives.  As Newt Gingrich said in his 1992 course on American Government, passing a law is hard, because it should be hard.

The Bill

 House Bill 125 has an alluring title. The title of the bill is “Repeal gun free zones and preemption amendments.” 

What the bill tries to do is remove gun free zones on government owned property.  The proposed law makes it a crime for any person to knowingly prohibit another person from lawfully carrying a concealed weapon into those places.  

Places where concealed firearms are allowed under this bill include any public meeting, any meeting of the legislature, any public school, college, university athletic event or event taking place on public property that does not sell alcohol. 

Additionally, the law says no city, town, county, political subdivision or any other entity shall prohibit the carrying or possession of firearms in public places.

As we all know, our constitutional system of government has three branches, the legislative, the executive and the judicial branch.  The legislative branch passes the laws, the executive branch carries out the laws, and the judicial branch interprets the laws.   Our founders designed a system of checks and balances, so no one branch of government has absolute power.

The bill recognizes there are certain places where firearms should not be carried.    

The legislature recognizes the right of private property owners to restrict firearms on their private property. 

The bill also allows limiting firearms by state agencies certified by the Wyoming Department of Health or the Department of Family Services to provide residential treatment services (mental health wards), where explosive or volatile materials are present, and if you are a student going to school.

Facilities used for law enforcement, jails or prisons, courtrooms, places that dispense alcoholic beverages and places where carrying firearms are prohibited by federal law are also gun free zones.

The Defects In The Legislation

The purpose of the legislature is to write laws. As a result, words mean something.

This article deals with only the language of the bill.  Whether carrying concealed firearms and other weapons in dormitories or elementary schools is an issue for the legislature to determine. 

The legislature said it would be a bad idea to carry firearms into areas where there are (explosive -- meaning likely to shatter violently or burst apart), and volatile (easily evaporated or liable to change rapidly and unpredictably).  So, if it blows up or expands rapidly, firearms are prohibited.  Everywhere else is fair game.

Under the legislation, firearms are permitted in area where there are pathogenic (organisms that produce disease such as anthrax or smallpox), toxic (causing or capable of causing death or illness like chlorine gas or anhydrous ammonia), places were highly radioactive material is stored like radiology suites, places where magnetic areas like MRI magnets exist, places where cryogenic gasses like nitrogen or helium are stored. 

So, if firearm discharge will cause an explosion, possession is illegal. If a firearm discharge releases a toxic or radioactive substance, no problem.

The problem is the legislature has no way of knowing, absent detailed examination, what hazards may exist at specific governmental facilities – thus local control is needed.

Wyoming used to be a place where we trusted the government at the local level to make the right decision, and they did.  Now, the Legislature has assumed the responsibility to make decisions for every governmental entity.

Then, the legislature did a funny thing in this bill.  The legislature took command of every aspect of firearms use.  The legislature said the regulation of [the sale, transfer, purchase, delivery, taxation, manufacture, ownership, transportation, storage, use and possession of firearms, weapons and ammunition] is preempted by the legislature of the state of Wyoming.  

To understand the defect, one must look at the definition of the word “regulation.”  Black’s Law Dictionary defines regulation as “the act of regulating; a rule or order prescribed for management of government; a regulating principle; a precept.”

The language of the bill goes beyond expanding possession of concealed weapons into gun free zones.   Now the legislature is the sole body to regulate the use of firearms, weapons and ammunition by every government official.

Since the legislature is the sole body regulating the use of firearms, now, every law enforcement agency will have to get the permission of the legislature to implement deadly force policies, because the legislature now is the sole body who can regulate the use of firearms, weapons (does this term include knives) and ammunition.

The legislature will have to grant permission for game and fish officers who what to humanly end a suffering animals life.   Look at the sloppy language of the bill.

As the governor pointed out in his letter, every one of the governmental facilities like the State Hospital, the Boys School or the University of Wyoming, as well as every local facility, would have to receive approval of the legislature to restrict the carrying of firearms.  

Since regulation is preempted by the legislature by this bill, and there is no specific prohibition passed by the legislature, upon signing this bill it would suddenly be legal to open carry an AR15 into a University of Wyoming Football game.  On the other hand, if alcohol were sold, under this bill, concealed carrying into the same game would be illegal.

Arguably, the legislature would have to set up its own legislative police force and legislative court system to regulate the use of firearms in violation of their laws.  The unclear language inserted in the bill creates a violation of the separation of powers set forth in the Wyoming Constitution.  Had the language been clearer, perhaps there would be no separation of powers problem.

Under our system of government, the Legislative Branch passes the laws.  The Executive Branch administers the laws. It seems the Legislature has forgotten it role in government.


All of these defects were argued on the floor of the Wyoming Senate.  The legislature knew of the problems in the committee, after the bill came to the Senate from the House.

The purpose of two houses in the legislature is for one house to catch the mistakes of the other house. 

Thus, the bill failed in committee on a 3 to 2 vote.   The decision in the committee was not based on the Bill Title.  The Committee decision was based on the known defects in the bill.

Through a parliamentary procedural move, the bill was removed from the Committee.   Debate was had on the floor about the bill.  The defects were pointed out.

One senator said on the floor of the Senate “I’m very concerned that any amendment in the conference committee effectively kills this bill.  I would ask that you resist any amendment.”

It appears the senator was arguing, they all knew the defects in the bill, but they would rather pass a bad law than no law at all.

So, the legislature passed a bill with known defects.   What the legislature should have done was have a full and fair debate on the bill, and fixed the defects.   It shirked its duties.

If the governor had not vetoed the bill, it is unlikely the bill would have withstood judicial scrutiny. 

Then, instead of blaming the governor, certain legislators and lobbyists would be blaming “activist judges.”

Words in laws mean something.  Our system of checks and balances means something.  Bill titles mean nothing.  

The legislature should have done its job crafting a bill that works.  The legislature should have respected the limits of its powers.  It didn’t.

So, the question becomes, why would the legislature send a known defective bill to the governor’s desk for signature, and then scream, “It was the governor.  The governor did it.  The governor did it.”?

In my next column, we’ll explore potential reasons why a defective bill was sent to the governor’s desk for signature.  

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Tom Lubnau