By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
Some of Wyoming’s most conservative state legislators have sent two separate letters to U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, demanding they not support gun control legislation currently moving through Congress.
The first of the letters was written by 12 members of the Wyoming House Freedom Caucus on June 10, while the second was spearheaded by Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Robert Wharff, R-Evanston, and signed by a collection of senators and representatives one week later on June 17.
The timing and authorship of the two different letters has created a small rift among firearms rights advocates.
Mark Jones, national director of Gun Owners of America’s national director of hunter’s programs, said Bouchard is posturing as a strong Second Amendment supporter writing his own letter one week after the Freedom Caucus wrote its letter.
“Senator Bouchard is playing fast and loose with the truth,” Jones said.
Jones pointed to Bouchard’s repeated votes against the Second Amendment Protection Act in this year’s legislative session.
Bouchard said he voted against the bill because it did not go far enough to protect firearms, but Jones said this is disingenuous and said he would give Bouchard a grade of “F” when it comes to his votes on the Second Amendment.
“He promotes himself as a Second Amendment champion,” Jones said. “He picks and chooses when he supports things.”
Bouchard and Jones are frequent foes in testifying on proposed firearms legislation in the Legislature.
Bouchard founded Second Amendment advocacy group Wyoming Gun Owners and is still on friendly terms with the organization. He was given a 100% grade for his votes by the National Rifle Association in 2020 but only a 68% grade by pro-gun group LEAP Forward that same year.
Bouchard is running for U.S. Congress against Harriet Hageman, who Gun Owners of America has endorsed, and incumbent U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney.
Bouchard did not respond to a request for comment.
Wharff said Bouchard has an unquestionably strong record on Second Amendment issues and he, like Bouchard, did not vote for the SAPA because it was toothless.
“They knew damn good and well that bill would do nothing,” he said.
Wharff described Jones as a “nobody” and a “Johnny come lately” because he suspects someone recruited him to move to Wyoming.
He said Jones never spoke to him during the Legislature’s budget session and added he could not remember a time in the past when two pro-gun groups were in active opposition to each other in Wyoming.
Wharff said no one reached out to him about the first letter and he did not read it until after he signed the second one. He said he considered himself a member of the Freedom Caucus in the past, but now suspects he is being pushed out of the House group because he is running for the Senate.
Past Freedom Caucus members Reps. Dan Laursen, R-Powell and Bill Fortner, R-Gillette are also running for Senate and were also left off the original letter. Laursen and Fortner signed on to the second letter.
Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, said he and other members of the Freedom Caucus were annoyed because Bouchard and Wharff did reach out to get signatures from their group but many of these signatures were left off the second document. Wharff said this is not true and said no signatures sent in time were left off their letter.
Only one legislator – Rep. Scott Heiner, R-Green River – is listed on both letters.
Jones said Wyoming’s Freedom Caucus led the country as the first group of state legislators to oppose the federal gun control legislation that passed through the U.S. House on June 8. He said similar-minded caucuses in Pennsylvania and Texas followed suit with their own efforts after the Freedom Caucus letter was written.
“It was used as an example of liberty and freedom,” Jones said. “It was used as an example all across America.”
The two letters are similar in their purpose and overall message. Both oppose red flag laws — under which a relative, friend or police officer can recommend that a court remove a person’s firearms — and any gun control measures.
The proposed federal legislation comes in response to a series of mass shooting events in recent months that killed dozens of people.
In its letter, the Freedom Caucus focuses on school security steps that could be taken to prevent such atrocities. The letter points to a Wyoming law that allows school districts to decide if they will allow their teachers to carry concealed weapons in the classroom as a solution that could be brought to a national level.
“It is clear from our country’s history that those who will obey the laws of this land will do so while armed,” the letter said. “Yet, those who will perpetrate evil, will do so with or without arms and when the prior are the armed, the latter are the meeker.”
Bouchard and Wharff’s letter addresses Barrasso and Lummis more directly, immediately questioning their loyalty to opposing gun control.
“It is being reported by various media outlets that you are supportive of the draconian gun control measures, including red flag gun confiscation being fast tracked through Congress right now,” the letter says.
This is a reference to a June 7 CNN story that appeared to show U.S. Lummis having a change of heart on some gun control measures. Her spokesperson, Abegail Cave, said her positions have not shifted.
“She is a strong defender of the Second Amendment, and will always defend the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms,” Cave said.
Lummis was categorized as giving new consideration to the package of bills that could include changes to red flag laws, mental health programs, school security and juvenile background checks because of an uptick in calls made to her office.
“That’s something that I’d be inclined to want to look at,” CNN reported Lummis saying. “So many juvenile records seem to be expunged and the clock is set back to zero the day they turn 18. So I think that is something worth considering shortly.”
Bouchard’s letter also questions Barrasso’s loyalty by mentioning he was standing next to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, when he proclaimed support for the gun control measures headed to the Senate.
Jennings said he has not heard back from either senator on the topic. Wharff said he had some encouraging initial conversations with Barrasso but was disturbed when he later saw him standing by McConnell when he made his statement.
“That was very troubling to me, to see a senator I have nothing but respect for standing behind the leader of the senate,” Wharff said. “That’s a show of support.”
Wharff said he spoke with a member of Lummis’ staff but not the senator herself. He said he worries this conversation led to a conflation of red flag laws with mental health issues and said he kept mental health out of the second letter to avoid confusion.
Neither letter mentions addressing mental health issues, but Wharff said he is a firm supporter of mental health and believes a failure to handle these types of issues is part of what leads to mass shooting events.
Neither Barrasso or Lummis were part of a group of 20 senators — half Republicans, half Democrats — who announced they have reached an agreement on the outlines of what would be the first federal gun-control bill in more than 25 years. Among its provisions, the legislation would increase federal funding for school security and create a federal grant program to entice states into adopting “red-flag” laws — laws that would allow guns and ammunition to be kept “out of the hands of individuals whom a court has determined to be a significant danger to themselves or others.”
Bouchard’s letter focuses on these red flag laws.
“If this measure comes to fruition, a vote for it will directly enable the spread of confiscation laws throughout the country and further normalize support for the eventual disarmament of this nation,” the letter said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Barrasso issued a firm statement about his position on red flag laws.
“While we must find a better way to identify troubled individuals early, we need to ensure the rights of law-abiding Americans are protected.,” Barrasso said. “I do not support federal red flag legislation and do not believe the federal government has a role in such laws. I will continue to oppose legislation that jeopardizes the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.”
Jennings said Second Amendment rights have improved over the past two decades and said he is firmly against any gun control legislation, including background checks and removal of the gun show loophole in Wyoming.
“I don’t see that as very valid to push that forward,” he said.