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Cody Gunmaker Fights To List Its Products On State Website

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

Firearms manufacturers are not able to sell their guns and ammo on the state’s Shop Wyoming website — and a Cody lawmaker wants the attorney general to take action against what she sees as illegal discrimination.

Last month, Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, asked Attorney General Bridget Hill to use a new law to sue the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network, which operates the online marketplace.

Williams made the request after complaints from Big Horn Armory of Cody, which has been unsuccessfully fighting for the better part of a year to list its guns on ShopWyoming.com.

The issue stems from the two large payment processors used by the site, Stripe and PayPal, as neither processor will handle sales of firearms and ammunition. But Big Horn Armory President Greg Buchel and Williams charge that the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network itself — run by the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Business Council and the U.S. Small Business Administration — is also discriminating against the firearm industry.

“The group that controls the Shop Wyoming website has free choice over what platform is used, they are culpable for that choice,” Williams wrote to the attorney general on Oct. 29, echoing an earlier email from Buchel. “The payment processor for Shop Wyoming and by association, the Wyoming Small Business Development Center and its directors employed by the University of Wyoming are in clear violation of W.S. 13-10-302(a).”

The law in question — which generally prevents financial institutions from discriminating against firearms-related businesses — was passed by the Wyoming Legislature and enthusiastically signed by Gov. Mark Gordon in early April.

Earlier this month, AG Hill said her office will look into the issue. However, it’s unclear whether Hill could bring suit against the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network, as the new law appears to only apply to financial institutions and not their customers or clients. That’s a point that’s been raised by the director of the Wyoming SBDC Network, Jill Kline.

Emails provided by Buchel indicate there’s also been some uncertainty as to whether out-of-state payment processors like PayPal and Stripe are subject to the law. The legislation also says that financial institutions can choose not to provide services to gun companies “for a business or financial reason.”

While the attorney general’s office has only agreed to look into the issue, Buchel called it “the most positive action I’ve seen so far.”

In an interview, Director Kline said the SBDC has nothing against guns, and only realized the underlying ecommerce platform prohibited firearm sales after subscribing to the service.

“… we thought we had made a great selection,” Kline said in an interview. “As many of the ‘what if’ questions we asked, we obviously didn’t get them all in.”

She said the intent was never to exclude anyone.

“We’re trying to just do a program that’s going to help businesses here in Wyoming in this difficult time,” Kline said.

Publicly launched

The Wyoming SBDC Network, which is based at the University of Wyoming, publicly launched the Shop Wyoming marketplace in February. The site was developed in partnership with an Iowa-based company that powers similar marketplaces across the country, with all of the funding provided by the federal CARES Act.

Businesses can freely sign up to offer their products on the site, which the SBDC has pitched as a place for customers to find products from numerous Wyoming-grown businesses in a single location.

Kline said it gives businesses a place or another place to sell their goods online, particularly as foot traffic may be lagging amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, as a result of the program, “we’ve helped so many businesses actually even get a website up and running,” she said.

Around 107 vendors were using the Shop Wyoming platform as of earlier this month, she said, with the site drawing nearly 65,000 pageviews through October. That’s translated to 63 orders and just less than $5,000 in sales. It’s an average of only about $50 per vendor, but Kline says the platform is still growing and SBDC is hoping for a boost this holiday season.

Buchel applied to be a seller back on Feb. 1, looking to offer Big Horn Armory’s “unique big bore lever guns and semi-auto rifles.” However, the request was soon rejected.

“Unfortunately, the payment [processor] for our site does not allow for sales of firearms or ammunition so we are unable to let you list those,” explained Shop Wyoming Project Manager Audrey Jansen. “However, if you would like to sell firearm accessories such as holsters, slings, or cuffs you may do that.”

Other retailers sell such accessories on the Shop Wyoming platform — including leatherwork made for holding bullets — and businesses can include a link back to their full site. However, Buchel said he’s not interested.

“We want to sell the guns themselves,” he said in an interview. “All of the accessories are ancillary to the whole operation — we sell guns, we build guns. That’s the deal.”

Buchel quickly brought the issue to the attention of state lawmakers.

Days after Big Horn Armory’s denial in February, state Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, asked Director Kline if the SBDC could find a different payment processor — one that would allow the state’s firearm manufacturers to sell their products through Shop Wyoming.

“Wyoming has worked hard to recruit these manufacturers,” Walters wrote, “so it only makes sense for Wyoming to offer them the same opportunities as [it] offers other [businesses] in the state.”

However, Kline said the “Shop Where I Live” ecommerce platform, created by Member Marketplace Inc. of Iowa, came with only PayPal and Stripe as payment options and that building an alternative would be cost-prohibitive.

Cody Regional Health

Kline again noted that Big Horn Armory could list its non-firearm products and link back to its full site, saying that alternative was offered “to all the businesses that have run into this challenge.”

“We want to see all of our retailers statewide be successful and we are happy to assist this individual,” Kline wrote in late February, referring to Buchel. “Unfortunately, this project will not work perfectly for every business.”

Meanwhile, state lawmakers took up House Bill 236.

HB 236

The legislation generally prohibits financial institutions — defined as payments processors, financial institutions defined in state law and national banking associations — from discriminating against entities who are “engaged in the lawful commerce of firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition products.”

If a business faces such discrimination, the law says they can file a lawsuit and seek actual, treble and punitive or exemplary damages from the institution, along with recouping their costs.

It also empowers the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office to file a suit against institutions who violate the law. Under the bill, the AG can ask a judge to issue a temporary restraining order or permanent injunction against a financial institution that discriminates against firearm entities. The attorney general can also seek a civil penalty of up to $20,000 per violation for repeated discrimination — and the state could sever its business relationship with any offenders.

The final version of HB 236 passed the House on a 44-13 vote, while clearing the Senate 23-6. Gordon signed it into law April 8.

“I will relentlessly defend our Second Amendment and the Wyoming businesses involved in the firearms industry,” the governor said at the time.

In August — a month after the new law took effect — Buchel reapplied to join the Shop Wyoming platform. When he was turned down again, he charged that the Shop Wyoming processors, the Wyoming SBDC Network and its directors at the University of Wyoming were violating the law.

Kline responded by noting that UW is not a payment processor and not a financial institution.

“We simply subscribe to the ecommerce platform that hosts the site, and as a subscriber, we must comply with the terms and conditions provided by the platform,” she wrote in the email conversation, which included a few lawmakers.

Buchel, however, said it seemed that the organizations were “culpable” for their choice of platform.

“We again ask you to reconsider your decision regarding this matter before further action is necessary,” he wrote.

Rep. Williams’ took up the cause in the late October email to Attorney General Hill, asking for action under the new law, and she denounced the Wyoming SBDC Network’s actions in a news release earlier this month.

“I am appalled that they are not abiding by the new law,” Williams said, praising Wyoming’s firearms industry and Big Horn Armory, which is in the process of expanding its operation.

Working through the law

Hill did not respond to a message seeking comment, but the attorney general’s office is apparently now working to determine whether the law is being followed. As it sorts through the complaint, the office will likely have to consider a number of issues. For instance, while the law prohibits discrimination against firearm companies, financial institutions can choose not to provide service if they have “a business or financial reason.”

Stripe prohibits “weapons and munitions; gunpowder and other explosives” as part of a category of banned items it describes as “regulated or illegal products or services.” Additional items in the category include products containing tobacco, marijuana or CBD, prescription-only drugs, fireworks and toxic, flammable and radioactive materials. 

(Gambling services, adult content, bankruptcy lawyers, psychic services and door-to-door sales are also banned, among other things.) PayPal prohibits its services from being used on a smaller, but similar list of transactions.

On their websites, neither PayPal nor Stripe specifically explain why they ban firearm and ammo-related sales. A general Stripe FAQ on its restricted businesses offers that, “for now, due to various reasons, including requirements that apply to Stripe as a payment processor, requirements from our financial partners, and the potential risk exposure to Stripe, we’re currently not able to work with certain industries.”

In Buchel’s discussions with state officials, some questions have been raised about whether Stripe and PayPal are subject to the law. An attorney in the Legislative Service Office indicated to Rep. Walters that they likely are, though he called the question “a tricky one” within “a considerably complicated field of law.”

For his part, Buchel thinks the situation with the Shop Wyoming platform is clear.

“They’re discriminating,” he said in an interview, adding, “They’re taking a hard line and, you know, they’re wrong.” 

If the attorney general ultimately declines to file a suit, Buchel continues to have the option to hire a private attorney and take legal action himself.

Wyoming Ranks #2 In Nation For Gun Ownership; Montana Barely Takes Top Spot

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A gun store owner in Casper said he was not surprised Wyoming was ranked as No. 2 state in the nation for households that own guns.

Shawn Wagner of Wagner’s Outdoor Outfitters told Cowboy State Daily he was more surprised Montana managed to barely beat Wyoming out for the title of No. 1.

“I started out in this business while in Montana and learned up on all this good stuff at Big Bear Sports Center,” Wagner said Wednesday. “I’m kind of surprised they’re higher in percentage than us, because they have a fairly liberal crowd in the western part of the state.”

A 2020 report by the Rand Corporation (a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges) showed that Montana topped the nation for households that owned firearms with 66.3%.

Wyoming trailed closely at 66.2%.

As part of the Gun Policy in America initiative, RAND researchers developed annual, state-level estimates of household firearm ownership by combining data from surveys and administrative sources.

First, they used a small-area estimation technique to create state-level ownership estimates for each of 51 nationally representative surveys assessing household firearm ownership rates. They then used structural equation modeling to combine these survey-based estimates with administrative data on firearm suicides, hunting licenses, subscriptions to Guns & Ammo magazine and background checks into the final measure of household firearm ownership.

The resulting measure represented the proportion of adults living in a household with a firearm for each state in each year between 1980 and 2016.

Wagner noted that gun sales at his store have increased significantly since the pandemic started.

“Early on, all the stores were [busy] like that,” he said. “People couldn’t go to work, so they might as well go fishing, camping, shooting or some type of outdoor recreation. So we were busy because of that.”

Then, as the 2020 presidential election neared, gun sales again ticked up due to anxiety about the consequences of the outcome.

Now, Wagner is seeing a significant number of first-time gun owners, particularly women, visiting his store because they want to feel safe, or because they are part of a hunting family and have a new generation heading out to the woods or camps.

“I’d say about three-fourths of our gun sales are hunting related right now,” he said. “Our sales are double what they were before the pandemic. My store is tiny and we’re pushing out $1.5 to $2 million in products per year.”

While gun sales have increased over the last 18 months, Wagner is still seeing an ammunition shortage like he was in May.

“We got in a good size (shipment) of hunting ammo, but it was just for hunting, to the tune of about $25,000 wholesale and within a couple of weeks, it’s gone,” he said. “I don’t know how much longer this could last, but it could be another year.”

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Powell “Free AR-15 Roofing Company” Still in Business; Co-Founder Pushes Back Against Social Media Attacks

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A construction company that won global attention when it offered a free rifle with every new roof is now the target of customer ire because of project delays. 

However, the remaining partner in Wiggins Construction in Powell said the reports have amounted to exaggerations and half-truths.

“I’m basically just doing my best at this point, trying to keep up with what I can, to do what I can to try to basically resolve what we have left,” says Josh Wiggins, who with his brother Todd co-founded Wiggins Construction in 2013. “We’ve not backed out of any contracts, we’re just behind because we’ve lost our employees… and so we’re doing our best to resolve our issues and to keep moving forward.”

This spring, as a marketing campaign, the company offered customers who ordered a new roof or new building a free AR-15 rifle.

And for a few months, it worked great. Wiggins Construction was a media darling for the Fox News audience. The stance of the owners on Second Amendment rights was popular with conservative Americans, and support came from around the world.

“Somebody sent a message from the UK, saying ‘Hey, come do my roof, you know, we can’t own an AR-15 here’,” Matt Thomas, then-marketing director for Wiggins Construction, told Cowboy State Daily in April. 

At the time, the promotion did what it was meant to do — the company lined up job after job. But Josh said troubles began when the partnership faltered this spring.

“We probably had ($1.5 million) in projects lined up,” Josh Wiggins said recalls about the beginning of this summer. “Probably a dozen or better. Between subcontractors and employees, we probably had between 13 and 15 people working.”



But when Josh and his brother had a falling out this June, the business was hit hard. Josh said he is still actively working on construction projects, but Todd is no longer part of the day-to-day business, although they are legally still partners. 

Josh said the management issues have caused delays, which have spurred disgruntled clients to spread what he labels as half-truths on social media. Those rumors, in combination with the departure of his brother from the day-to-day business, have caused his company’s reputation to plummet. 

A news article about the company’s problems told just one side of the story, Josh said, because the company’s legal advisors cautioned him not to talk to the press. And when that story was posted on Facebook, the comments were anything but positive.

But Josh said the company has not violated any contracts it had with clients – rather, the work has been significantly delayed because of COVID-related supply issues, compounded by the management split.

“We were planning on doing everything,” he said. “I mean, obviously, we were struggling with employees, and with timeframes. You know, we ordered a set of doors, and they finally showed up after five months, I think. Windows were kind of the same story. So supplies were a huge thing. And for some reason, people just don’t couldn’t understand that. And so we have people that basically walked away from us, and didn’t even give us the chance to do what we said we would do, and now are causing issues even more so in the company.”

The comments on social media were more than just pointed at his business – Josh said his family was targeted as well.

“My family has been attacked personally, my wife, on social media, and I think that that’s not professional, for people to attack her,” he said. “She’s not an owner. She’s my wife. Social media just opens the doors for people to say whatever they want sometimes, which is obviously a good thing in some ways, but it’s a bad thing when it comes to ruining people and destroying their reputations.”

Between the management split — which has taken Wiggins Construction from more than 20 employees down to three — and the supply issues, Josh Wiggins said that the company’s ability to do business in a timely manner has been completely affected.

“Our goal all along was to do business with integrity, and to proceed in business,” he explains. “I mean, I have sunk my life savings into this to try to preserve what I could out of it, but I’m out of options right now other than to just keep going day by day and to try to pay our bills.”

Wiggins noted that social media, which had raised his company’s visibility to a national stage in the spring, has turned out to be just as much to blame for his family’s struggles now.

“My goal at this point is to try to preserve my name and be able to walk through town with dignity,” he said. “And that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

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Wyo Company That Promised Free AR-15 With Roof Job Disappears; Owners Sued

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By Kevin Killough, Powell Tribune
Photo: Courtesy Powell Tribune

In the spring, Wiggins Construction LLC began aggressively pushing a new promotion, offering a free AR-15 rifle with the purchase of a new roof. The campaign generated a lot of praise and controversy on social media and elsewhere, and it received local and national media coverage.

In April, Wiggins Construction’s then-marketing director, Matt Thomas, told Fox Business that the company had more than 120 people around the state inquire about getting a new roof. The roofing promotion was set to run through the end of the year, and Thomas told the Tribune that the company was booked up with other construction jobs for nearly the next two years.

“As much business as we want, we can have it,” Wiggins Construction co-owner Josh Wiggins said in April.

However, the Powell company appears to have gone dark following a change in ownership, with some customers complaining of poor work and an inability to get in touch with the company.

Basin resident Tony Harrison is taking legal action against Wiggins Construction, alleging in a pending lawsuit that the company defrauded him out of over $45,000.

Two other Big Horn Basin residents are making similar claims against the company, but say they don’t want to spend the legal fees for a settlement they don’t believe will ever be paid.

“This is way bigger than screwing over one person,” Harrison said.

Two customers in the Powell area have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Wyoming Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit; the BBB suspended Wiggins Construction’s accreditation on Aug. 19, after the company failed to respond to the complaints. 

Multiple calls to the main number for Wiggins Construction seeking comment for this story were not returned. Thomas, the former customer relations and marketing director, said he is no longer with the company. Reached at a private number, former co-owner Todd Wiggins said he has also severed ties with the business. He referred questions to his brother, Josh Wiggins, who the Tribune was unable to reach.

Lawsuit

Harrison hired Wiggins Construction earlier this year to build a home on his property in Basin. In his lawsuit, Harrison says he paid the company $66,100 from a construction loan he took out. However, he says Wiggins Construction only performed about $28,000 in excavation and foundation work before abandoning the project.

The lawsuit Harrison filed this month against Wiggins Construction and Josh and Todd Wiggins alleges breach of contract and fraud, accusing the company of taking money for services that were never rendered. 

The suit is asking Wiggins Construction to pay back $45,145, which includes Harrison’s legal fees so far. 

In an interview, Harrison said the work Wiggins Construction did on the foundation was substandard. No floor joists or framing for the house were ever completed after the work on the foundation. In late June, Harrison said Josh Wiggins told him Wiggins Construction had money stolen from it and he wouldn’t be able to complete the rest of the work Harrison had hired the company to do. 

Harrison said he’s talked to other area residents, who claim to have similar experiences with the company.

Cold welcome

Stan and Debbie LaBlue paid Wiggins Construction over $90,000 to set up their doublewide mobile home northeast of Powell, and build a garage and backyard patio. 

In California, Stan worked decades as a truck driver and Debbie spent most of her career as a supervisor in a warehouse. Like many former residents of the Golden State, they wanted to get away from the politics and high cost of living in California, and decided to spend their retirement in Wyoming. 

But their move to the Cowboy State hasn’t gone as planned. The LaBlues said not only did Wiggins Construction not complete the work it was paid to do, what work the company did complete was shoddy.

The LaBlues expected to move into their house in April, when Wiggins Construction estimated the work would be complete. However, the residence wasn’t ready by the April date. Having already sold their place in California, the LaBlues came out to Wyoming and stayed weeks in hotels and an Airbnb rental. Rather than continue paying for lodging, they eventually moved into their home before it had heat, water or sewer. 

Wiggins Construction poured the foundation and set up the home, but much of the work, Stan LaBlue said, wasn’t done properly. One worker from another company, he said, fell through the floor in a hallway where there was nothing but tile over a space between studs, along the seam of the doublewide. 

By that point, the couple had already cut a few checks to Wiggins Construction totaling over $60,000. In June, Wiggins Construction reorganized as Breianna Wiggins Construction LLC, and the LaBlues made out a final check directly to Breianna Wiggins for $20,667, dated June 18, to complete the work on their home. Debbie LaBlue said Josh Wiggins kept assuring them the work would proceed, but it never happened.  

At one point, a lumber company threatened to put a lien on the LaBlue’s property for materials that Wiggins Construction had not paid for. The LaBlues said they had paid Wiggins Construction for the materials, but had to cut a $7,000 check to the lumber company to avoid a lien.

“They were coming after us,” Debbie LaBlue said.

Today, their house has heat, water and sewer, but it’s missing siding. The concrete for the garage and sidewalks is unlevel or unfinished. The drainage is all wrong, meaning water will run toward the house. Wiggins Construction put rebar down for the patio, but never poured the concrete. Wiggins also left a bunch of extra concrete on the approach to the garage, which the LaBlues had to tear up. It will cost them over $400 to dispose of the material. 

Cody Regional Health

The LaBlues have since hired another company to complete the patio, and the LaBlues’ son, Arend, is finishing the garage, which was left with a few walls, no drywall, uneven concrete, and no roof. 

Debbie LaBlue said they received the free AR-15 rifle Wiggins promised — a photo of the couple posing with their gun and the company’s marketing manager was featured in a story highlighting the promotion — but they have since sold it. 

The LaBlues contacted lawyers, but eventually decided it wasn’t worth the cost to pursue legal action.

“We’re not rich. We’re running out of money, and we’ll never see a dime from them [Wiggins Construction],” Stan LaBlue said. 

“You can’t get blood out of a turnip,” Arend LaBlue added. 

They filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Wyoming Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit, and are hoping they can help prevent others from getting taken.

Missing materials

Mike Foster also filed complaints with the attorney general and BBB, saying he had similar experiences with the company. 

Foster hired Wiggins Construction in the spring of 2020 to repair the roof on his father’s mobile home, which is on the same lot as his own house. Foster dealt with Todd Wiggins on that job and said the work was done properly and on time. Wiggins Construction even used photos of the house, with Foster’s permission, in promotional materials for the AR-15 rifle giveaway.

Based on that experience, Foster hired Wiggins Construction again in December 2020 to build his new house. As material prices were rising, Foster said Josh Wiggins asked for an advance to buy the materials before prices climbed higher. Foster paid Wiggins Construction $42,500 to order doors, windows, tile, flooring, and cabinets. Foster said the windows and cabinets were delivered, but he never saw the rest.

“These materials just didn’t show up,” Foster said. 

Wiggins Construction, Foster said, poured the foundation and put up the frame of the house, but that’s where the work ended. Foster said he spoke weekly with Josh Wiggins, and Wiggins gave him different reasons why the work wasn’t proceeding. Foster said Wiggins at first told him the siding hadn’t come in, but when Foster called the supplier to find out what was causing the delay, he was told no order for siding had been placed. 

Finally, in July, Foster decided to fire the company. 

“It came to a point where we couldn’t believe anything he [Josh Wiggins] said,” Foster said. 

New name

Wiggins Construction came under fire from several area residents on Facebook in July, around the time that the company took down its website, changed its name to “Breinna Wiggins Construction” on Facebook and created the new LLC.

In a July Facebook post, the company sought to address what happened, saying the changes were partially the results of a change in ownership. The company also denied various accusations that had been made on the platform.

“The bottom line is this. Wiggins Construction is not going out of business, we are not currently in a law suit, we did not steal $400,000. And please don’t believe everything you read online,” the company wrote on July 11. “We are looking forward to serving more customers and knocking out more roofs this year.”

However, in the comment section below the post, a couple customers posted in August that they were having a hard time reaching the company.

“Wiggins recently put a new and expensive roof on my house. The new roof seems to be excellent with the exception of the need for a gutter apron required to keep rain water out of my sunroom,” one area resident wrote on Aug. 19. “Why won’t you answer your phone or return my calls?”

Another request for a callback was posted days later, but by Friday, the entire Breinna Wiggins Construction LLC Facebook page had been deleted.

Tips for dealing with contractors

Most municipalities, including the cities of Powell and Cody, require general contractors to hold a license and be properly insured. However, rural Park and Big Horn counties do not have any such requirements.

The Better Business Bureau recommends that people research contractors before hiring them. Individuals can verify licenses and insurance, ask the company for references, get all estimates in writing and get a signed contract that specifies who will obtain permits and who is responsible for cleanup. It’s also a good idea to get a lien waiver that states that all suppliers and subcontractors have been paid for their work. 

Lastly, never pay a contractor up front for any work. Arrange a payment schedule, the BBB recommends, that staggers the payments at certain intervals when parts of the project are completed satisfactorily. All checks should be written out to the company and never to individuals.

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Wyoming Gun Owners (WyGO) Sues State Over Election Fine

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A Second Amendment advocacy group is suing the state over election laws used to fine it $500, alleging the laws impose unconstitutional restrictions on its rights of free speech.

Wyoming Gun Owners, in as lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court earlier this week, asked the court to rule that the election laws in question are unconstitutionally broad.

“Americans’ right to speak freely about candidates for elected office includes the right to publicly examine candidates’ positions on salient policy issues,” the lawsuit said. “Americans also have a right to know what a law means, especially one that may sanction them for engaging in political speech. Vague laws invite arbitrary enforcement and chill speech.

The lawsuit names as defendants Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler, Election Division Director Kai Schon and Attorney General Bridget Hill.

The lawsuit stems from a fine levied against WyGO by the secretary of state’s office for alleged violations of the state’s electioneering laws.

The Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce complained that during the elections of 2020, radio ads, emails and a direct mail piece urged voters to vote for or against candidates.

Under Wyoming law, if a group spends more than $500 urging people to vote for or against a candidate or issue, the group is considered involved in “electioneering” and must register with the secretary of state’s office and disclose the names of its donors. 

State attorneys pointed specifically to a radio advertisement that aired in Cheyenne comparing the stances of legislative candidates on Second Amendment issues, referring to the ad’s statement “tell (state Senate candidate Erin) Johnson that Wyoming gun owners need fighters, not country club moderates who will stab us in the back.

They also told WyGO that other communications, including emails and a direct mailer, may qualify as electioneering.

WyGO did not file the reports required of campaign groups because it did not believe its communications fit the definition of electioneering, the lawsuit said.

A civil fine was levied against the group as a result.

In its lawsuit, WyGO said it was only informing voters of how various candidates stood on Second Amendment issues and was not urging people to vote one way or another.

It also said the secretary of state’s office did not specify, beyond the radio ad, which of WyGO’s communications — email, direct mail or Facebook posts — were in violation of electioneering laws.

“Accordingly, and considering (the state’s) manifest inability to distinguish between speech that expresses views about issues and candidates from speech advocating for a vote, (WyGO) respecfully preserves its claim that Wyoming’s ‘electioneering’ law is unconstitutional on its face,” the lawsuit said.

As a result, moving forward, the organization will “reduce its activity” because it is not sure what statements may lead to a complaint.

“But due to Wyoming’s electioneering-communications statute, and the manner in which Wyoming state officials have enforced, it … WyGO is left to twist in the wind and wonder whether it can send political emails, post videos and candidate surveys, maintain its website, and speak about candidates’ records in future elections,” the lawsuit said. “WyGO is also left to wonder how to report its contributions and expenditures, if they even are to be reported, and what it can or should tell its donors about their privacy.”

The lawsuit alleges the way the electioneering laws are enforced, groups like WyGO have no way of knowing whether they have violated the law until a complaint is lodged.

“The statute may trap the innocent by not providing fair warning or foster arbitrary and discriminatory application, and it can also chill speech by operating to inhibit protected expression,” it said.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the state from enforcing electioneering laws against WyGO’s communications and a ruling that the laws are unconstitutionally void and unenforceable. It also asks for reimbursement for trial costs, attorney’s fees and damages against Wheeler and Schon of $17.91.

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Ammo Shortage Continues in Wyoming

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyomingites love their guns. And apparently, the rest of the country is jumping on that bandwagon.

In an era known for panic buying and stockpiling, guns and ammunition are popular items. In fact, ammunition is in such short supply that outdoor supply stores can’t keep enough on the shelves.

“They sit on the shelf for maybe a day and then they’re about gone for the most part,” said Madison Pendley, store manager at Rocky Mountain Discount Sports in Cody. “Unless we get like a full pallet, then that will last a couple of days, but that’s about the extent of it.” 

Pendley said the store has multiple suppliers that it orders from, and it will get multiple small shipments a day, but only about 10 boxes at a time. 

Shawn Wagner, the owner of Wagner’s Outdoor Outfitters in Casper, said he has never seen a shortage like this one.

“Not in 24 years,” which is the amount of time Wagner has been in the sporting goods business, he said.

“Well, it was similar, right after the Sandy Hook shooting thing during Obama time,” he added

Wagner pointed to efforts to pass stricter gun-control laws since President Biden was elected as one reason gun owners are stockpiling weapons and ammunition. Biden has proposed multiple forms of restrictions on firearms and accessories, such as ammunition capacity limits, a federal assault weapon ban and universal background checks.

“People are still paranoid, at least in our area,” Wagner said. “You know, we’re all conservative, not all of us, but the majority. And they’re just worried about what the administration is gonna do.”

And particularly in Wyoming, where shooting is a way of life, Pendley said people want to make sure they have enough ammunition on hand.

“People like their guns and ammo here,” she said. “So they’re seeing it all across the US, but we’re still buying everything that anybody can get their hands on because, of course, people like to shoot here.”

But political insecurity is only part of the equation.

“Somewhere about the first of March last year somebody flipped the switch with this COVID thing, plus the election coming,” Wagner said. “People just bought up stuff to where now I don’t have regular supplies of hunting ammo, I’m just starting to see it come back in right now, but it’s still very, very limited. It gets here and it’s gone, usually within a few days.”

The bottleneck also stems from factories limiting production during the pandemic, according to Pendley.

“The components that they need to load the ammo, primers in particular, are tough for them to get,” she said. 

“Some states are shut down and couldn’t get components; they couldn’t get brass,” Wagner adds. “Some of the factories have limited production, and they just kind of snowballed.” 

There has been an increase in new gun owners as well, adding to the demand. According to an official with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an estimated 8.4 million people bought firearms for the first time in 2020.

“So if you’re just going to buy the one or two boxes of ammo for (each new gun sold), that’s another 10 or 20 million boxes of ammo they have to make,” Wagner said.

And with a shortage of supply and an increase in demand, prices are bound to rise.

“Ammo for sure has definitely gone up,” Wagner said. “I think a lot of it’s gone up at least 30% to 50%. That’s just on everything.”

“We’ve seen price increases across the board,” Pendley said. “Anywhere from 3% for some companies, up to like 20% or 30% for other companies.”

And how much the price jumps depends a lot on who retailers order from, according to Pendley.

“The big guys aren’t increasing their prices nearly as much, as they have the buying power to still get the same prices that they have been getting,” she said. “The little companies, though — like, there’s a company in Montana that we’ve seen huge price increases from, because they don’t have the buying power to get what they need. They’re making sure that they get their money’s worth for the little bit that they do get out the door.”

But Wagner said production has started to ramp up again, which may alleviate the shortage.

“Now things are cranking out,” he said. “I know most of these ammo factories are running 24/7. And right now I’ve had .223 and .556 on the shelf – and we’re selling a lot – but I’ve gotten in enough to where it’s always been available for maybe two weeks now.”

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Wyo Company Offering Free AR-15 With New Roof Getting International Attention; Calls From England & Russia

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A Powell construction company’s unique marketing tactic has generated international attention.

Wiggins Construction, a small family business based in northwest Wyoming, this month began offering a free AR-15 (Armalite) rifle for every new roof it installs. And the promotion has drawn attention from around the world.

“We’ve had probably 300 missed phone calls in the past two days, upwards of 500 emails, Facebook messages, stuff like that,” said Matt Thomas, marketing director for Wiggins Construction.

He added the company estimates about 95% of the response has been positive.

And the feedback isn’t just coming from the company’s primary market in the Big Horn Basin. Thomas said Wiggins’ has received requests for jobs just a bit out of its geographic reach.

“We’ve got calls from all over the United States, and the world, asking us to come do a roof,” he said. “Somebody sent a message from the UK, saying ‘Hey, come do my roof, you know, we can’t own an AR-15 here.’ And so, there’s a little bit of humor behind it.”

But not all the attention is positive.

“We are getting phone calls, voicemails from people saying all sorts of negative stuff about us, you know, stuff like ‘baby killers,’ and ‘we’re distributing weapons of mass destruction to the public,’” Thomas said.

And in an era of increasing attention on gun regulation, Thomas said the promotion has caught the attention of a larger audience. 

He said state, national, and even international media soon picked up on the story.

“From Cowboy State Daily, it went to USA Today, it’s been shared to Yahoo, we’ve been on Fox twice,” he said. “The Sun, UK Times, over in the United Kingdom has posted about it. A Russian newspaper has posted an article about it over in Russia, and we have no clue what it says because we don’t read Russian.”

Thomas pointed out that one of the reasons the company’s owners decided to conduct such a promotion was to show their support for Second Amendment rights.

“One thing that’s confused a lot of people is they said, you know, ‘How in the world can you own these guns?’” Thomas said. “I’m like, well, we live in America, and you live in America. And this is still a right that we have as a nation.

“Wyoming has the most lax gun laws in the country, hands down,” Thomas continued. “But we also have, last time I checked, the least gun violence in the country, hands down.”

But even with the relatively relaxed gun regulations in Wyoming, Thomas said the company’s owners want to go above and beyond to reassure the public that they take gun issues seriously. 

“We will be conducting FFL (Federal Firearms License) background checks on anybody who would like a firearm and we do business for,” Thomas explained. “And it’s just a pretty simple process. We’ve got actually FFL dealers all over the state of Wyoming who have reached out to us in almost every single county, saying that they’ll do transfers for free for every single one of our customers.

“Today, I talked to Sheriff Scott Steward in Park County,” Thomas continued, “and he’s assured me that everything we’re doing is legal and above par.”

And the promotion has been expanded to appeal to potential customers who may not be in the market for an AR-15.

“If you don’t want the gun, we’re donating $800 in either your name or our company’s name to Serenity (Pregnancy Resource Center) in Park County,” Thomas said. “That’s even more than the actual cost of the gun, just because it’s a cause that we really stand behind.”

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Big Horn County Enters Second Amendment Sanctuary Debate

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Big Horn County officials are looking into joining other counties around the state in declaring themselves a sanctuary for the Second Amendment.

Several Wyoming counties have recently passed resolutions declaring themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries.” Fremont County, Niobrara, Johnson and Hot Springs County Commissioners have all publicly declared their support for gun rights, taking a stand against what many perceive to be a national anti-gun movement.

Other counties, such as Campbell, Crook and Sweetwater, declared themselves to be Second Amendment Sanctuaries last year.

Big Horn County commissioners are among those considering making the same kind of public statement with a proclamation expressing support for the Second Amendment. 

C.J. Duncan, the mayor of Big Horn County’s seat in Basin, brought the idea to county officials.

He said he is concerned that what he sees as an anti-gun sentiment is becoming more prevalent throughout the country may threaten the rights of law-abiding citizens.

“With our current administration and past administrations at the federal level, gun rights specifically have been under attack,” he said, “even though the majority of people who own and operate guns are doing it within the bounds of the law.” 

However, Duncan added officials are concerned that if counties take too strong a position in favor of gun rights — for instance, if they signed a binding resolution rather than issuing a simple proclamation — local governments might face federal backlash.

“Legal counsel was afraid that if they signed a resolution or something stronger than a resolution, that they might be losing some of their federal grants and some federal funding,” he said.

In Johnson County, the resolution declaring the county a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” specifies that no county resources will be used to enforce federal rules or laws seen as a violation of the Second Amendment.

Duncan said the proclamation is simply a statement that he hopes will send a message to government leaders.

“It declares to the federal government that we take our constitutional rights in Wyoming, especially in Big Horn County, very seriously and expect them to uphold those rights,” he said. “As long as we’re law abiding citizens.”

And that’s the key, according to Duncan.

“I truly feel like the government wants to punish everyone, because you have a few dirtbags out there who don’t live within the guidelines of the laws — and quite frankly, a criminal’s not going to,” Duncan said. “That’s why they’re criminals. And this is common sense, it’s not rocket science.”

He said that he does not support the idea of allowing convicted felons to possess firearms.

“I personally feel strongly that when someone breaks the law, they have infringed on someone else’s rights – and once convicted, once the due process has taken place, then they are forfeiting their constitutional rights,” which Duncan says includes the right to bear arms. 

Big Horn County is inviting the public to a listening session on May 3 to discuss the sanctuary proclamation. 

According to the notice, “Big Horn County desires to proceed in a way that not only upholds the Constitution and laws of the United States and the State of Wyoming, but is also in the best interests of our citizens and law enforcement officers.”

Duncan said he is hoping that the county commissioners will support a resolution, which takes a legal stance, rather than a simple proclamation.

“I really truly feel like a proclamation would sell our Second Amendment, constitutional rights for federal dollars – and I’m not willing to do that,” he said.

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Wyoming Roofing Company Offers Free AR-15 With New Roof; Californians Lose Their Minds

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Many businesses will offer incentives to lure new customers.

But a Powell company is putting a new spin on the practice — by offering a free rifle for every new roof.

Matt Thomas, marketing director for Wiggins Construction in Powell, said his business has noticed a number of people moving to Wyoming from other states to enjoy a level of freedom they perhaps haven’t felt in their home state. 

So Thomas said the owners of Wiggins figured that giving away something unique — like an AR-15 rifle — might spark some interest and give them a leg up on their competition.

“People are moving into Wyoming to get out of the cities and to get away from the regulation and to get away from living in fear,” Thomas said.  “We’re just offering it as almost like, for the people that are recently moving to Wyoming as a ‘Welcome to Wyoming’ gift, and for the people that are here, locals, just a ‘thank you’ for doing business.”

Through the promotion, Wiggins gives an AR-15 to anyone having the company install a roof on their residential or commercial property. The AR (which stands for ArmaLite Rifle) is a semi-automatic rifle that can be configured to use a variety of ammunition, but most often uses .223-caliber rounds.

And it’s a promotion that is certainly generating attention. Thomas said the company has received some very pointed feedback about its offer.

“We’ve gotten quite a bit of flack from it,” he said. “I don’t know how this story’s gotten to New Hampshire and to Chicago, Illinois, and to central California. But we are getting phone calls, voicemails from people saying all sorts of negative stuff about us, you know, stuff like ‘baby killers’, and we’re distributing weapons of mass destruction to the public.

“But here’s the thing,” Thomas continued. “None of these people are locals that are really saying this. The response from the actual public and the locals has been phenomenal — we’ve got probably three voicemails this morning from people like ‘Hey, we don’t need a roof, but we saw your ad in the Powell Tribune and we just want to say that it’s awesome, and we really support what you guys are doing.’ “

The promotion started on April 12, and Thomas said the company has already booked more than 15 roofing jobs, with the goal of booking 150 more on by the end of the promotion.

“So as long as our government doesn’t do anything to restrict us from buying more guns to give away, we’re anticipating maybe 150 to 200 rifle giveaways by the end of the year,” Thomas said.

But he noted that the promotion shouldn’t be seen as a short cut for people looking for a way to get their hands on a semi-automatic rifle — there are very important rules and regulations the company is following.

“Even though Wyoming is the only state in the United States that does not have any gun transfer laws,” Thomas said, “we just want to make sure that everything we did was above par. So our lawyer has drafted up a form stating that (the customer is) over 21 years of age, that they are not a convicted felon, and they agree to abide by all state and federal firearms laws. 

“And then they’ll be signing that form, and we’ll be taking the serial number of the rifle and putting it down on the transfer of ownership form,” he added.

Thomas said even though the promotion is hitting the mark with gun enthusiasts, the company didn’t create the rifle giveaway idea to capitalize on people’s fears.

“If the government says, ‘Hey, this is no longer legal,’ we’ll stop our promotion — we want to be above par, and all of that,” he said. “We just kind of wanted something tangible to put in their hands, besides just a thank you card.”

PHOTO: Matt Thomas, center, from Wiggins Construction with Stan and Debbie LaBlue.

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Wyo Gun Owners (WyGo) Group Says Director of Sheriffs and Police Assoc. Is “Cancer On 2nd Amendment”

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A veteran Wyoming law enforcement officer is the latest target for a vocal gun rights group.

Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, drew the scorn of the Wyoming Gun Owners by opposing several measures proposed by gun rights advocates in the Legislature’s recent general session.

“There has never been a pro-gun bill that Byron Oedekoven did not oppose,” Aaron Dorr, WyGO’s political director, said in an April 1 post on the group’s Facebook page. “This guy is a cancer on the Second Amendment here in Wyoming.”

Dorr also called Oedekoven a “spindly little weasel” and repeated a theme often heard on WyGO’s Facebook posts that the former sheriff is a foe of Second Amendment rights.

But Oedekoven, a law enforcement officer for almost 30 years, denied Dorr’s allegations, noting that in 1995, he signed an “amicus brief” on behalf of what was then the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs challenging the validity of the federal “Brady Bill” gun control measure.

“My personal record shows I have been incredibly strong for the Second Amendment, and for them to describe it otherwise is a total disregard for the truth,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “It would be interesting to question what their actual motive was in stirring up this level of controversy.”

At issue is Oedekoven’s work on behalf of WASCOP to fix problems the group saw with several bills, primarily the “Second Amendment Preservation Act” offered by Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, a former executive director of WyGO. The bill was approved in an amended form by Wyoming’s Senate, but never taken up by the House.

The bill as originally written would have allowed Wyoming to declare as null and void any federal regulations seen as an infringement on the Second Amendment, including tax laws and registration rules.

The bill would also have forbidden police officers from seizing weapons under federal laws considered null and void and would have made any officer seizing a weapon under those federal laws subject to $50,000 in civil damages.

Similar bills are being considered in a number of other states. In Montana, a bill that would have banned the enforcement of new federal gun regulations was tabled. In Missouri, where proponents amended the bill to add the $50,000 in civil damages, the bill is awaiting Senate review.

Both WASCOP and the Wyoming Prosecuting Attorneys Association opposed the bill in Wyoming, in part because of the restrictions it would have put on police.

“They tried to say you couldn’t disarm a person who … hadn’t been found guilty yet,” Oedekoven said. “Then the question became what do you do with guns from bank robbers, child molesters and human traffickers who are not convicted felons and are in possession of firearms?”

WASCOP also objected to the bill’s removal of “qualified immunity,” which gives police offices and other public officials broad immunity from civil lawsuits for actions taken within their duties.

The state’s 23 sheriffs wrote a letter to legislators explaining their opposition to the bill while expressing their support for Second Amendment rights.

“The Wyoming Sheriff’s Association, collectively and individually, hold the United States and Wyoming Constitutions in the highest regard,” it said. “We, the Wyoming Sheriffs, respectfully request that the Wyoming Legislature seek laws that allow us to perform our duties while still protecting the law-abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms, which we hold as an absolute.”

Joseph Baron, representing the Prosecuting Attorneys Association, compared the bill’s language to that found in what he called “anti-law enforcement laws” championed by congressional Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Several of those testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 17 also noted that states lack the authority to simply declare a federal law or rule null and void.

WASCOP worked with lawmakers on an amendment to the bill creating a process through which the governor could issue an executive order banning police from enforcing federal rules and laws the state’s attorney general found to be contrary to the Second Amendment. The move was seen as a way to prevent the improper enforcement of unconstitutional laws while allowing law enforcement officers the flexibility to seize weapons when warranted.

“Our position was to stand strong on the Second Amendment and to assist where we could in developing strong language that would work well for law enforcement,” Oedekoven said.

Oedekoven’s work on the bill earned him the title of a “taxpayer funded anti-gun lobbyist” from WyGO, and visitors to the group’s page posted negative comments, with one suggesting he “needs to be taken out to the back 40.”

But Dorr, WyGO’s only registered lobbyist, did not argue in favor of the bill in the Judiciary Committee. Nor did he appear via video link to testify on the bill before the committee.

He did post several videos of himself on the group’s Facebook page talking about the bill as he drove down a highway that did not appear to be in Wyoming.

Dorr suggested in his videos that Wyoming gun owners call their county commissioners and urge them to withdraw from WASCOP because of Oedekoven’s actions.

“Your tax dollars are paying for this anti-gun troll to work the Capitol and attack your gun rights,” he said. “If that burns your backside, talk to your county officials and tell them if your money is going to fund (WASCOP) dues, then that’s a problem and (they) better deal with that or we’ll find someone who will.”

Oedekoven said some of those commenting on Dorr’s video also suggested that Dorr’s supporter should confront Oedekoven at his home in Campbell County.

“I haven’t seen any of that yet,” he said. “I am a little concerned based on the rhetoric and misinformation they are putting forth.”

In the course of his videos, Dorr also referred to Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill as a “putz.” Dorr is entangled in a legal battle with the attorney general’s office over the alleged failure of WyGO to register as a political action committee during last year’s elections.

Dorr’s videos also featured him calling the majority of Wyoming’s legislators “spineless little cowards.”

“We don’t have a pro-gun Legislature,” he said. “We have a handful of incredibly pro-gun legislators.”

WyGO is one of a number of state gun rights advocates groups run by Dorr and his brothers, Chris and Ben. 

WyGo regularly threatens to unseat elected officials who do not agree with its positions on gun issues. It led the charge in the 2020 primary election to remove Wyoming legislators it portrayed as weak on gun rights, including Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, and Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, who were defeated in their re-election bids.

Nationally, the Dorr brothers have criticized the National Rifle Association as being too weak in its defense of Second Amendment rights.

The organization’s Wyoming office is listed on its website as a private mailbox at a Cheyenne shipping service. Its mailing address, according to filings with the secretary of state’s office, is also listed as the Carlsbad, California, office of Labyrinth Inc., a company that says it helps charities with their state registrations.

WyGO’s registered agent, a primary contact needed for every corporation that registers in Wyoming, is a company called “InCorp Services,” a Nevada-based company that offers its services as a registered agent for multiple corporations in multiple states.

A Cheyenne phone number listed on the group’s website rang through to a recording. The group did not respond to Cowboy State Daily’s message or an email asking for an interview.

WyGO does not list the number of its members on its website, but its Facebook page has 33,245 followers.

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