Q: Why did the House Judiciary Committee vote 8-1 Wednesday to repeal Wyoming’s gun-free zones at schools, city council meetings and football games?
A: Because those places just aren’t safe without guns! Heh heh …Wait a minute, that’s not funny. Why on earth do state legislators think it’s OK for people to pack heat at our schools?
Turns out the joke is on us, for electing these jokers — at least it will be if the Legislature actually loses its collective mind and passes House Bill 114.
The above locations aren’t the only places the bill would allow people who have valid concealed carry permits issued by the state of Wyoming to take their weapons. Here’s the whole list:
Any meeting of a governmental entity; the Legislature and all of its committees; any public school, college or professional athletic event (whether or not related to firearms); any public elementary or secondary school facility; and any public college or university facility.
But don’t worry — HB 114, the brainchild of conservative Rep. Allen Jaggi (R-Lyman), will still prohibit permit holders from carrying guns into courtrooms. After all, there has to be some decorum and common sense somewhere. This isn’t the Wild West, is it?
Depending upon one’s mood and personal politics, the two-hour hearing was either the most entertaining or horrific way someone can spend a morning at the Capitol. Sometimes, it was both.
Several supporters of the bill dramatically showed the committee they were wearing empty holsters, apparently to symbolize the powerlessness they feel when they are told they can’t bear arms everywhere they go.
How brave of them to still enter the committee room knowing that for the duration of their stay they could be at the mercy of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups they kept mentioning as the kind of threats all Wyoming citizens have to worry about daily.
Of course, if HB 114 passes, next year the entire audience plus all nine members of the House Judiciary Committee will be able to legally carry concealed weapons, as long as they obtain the all-important permit.
But one legislator who won’t be carrying a gun is Rep. Charles Pelkey, a freshman Democrat from Laramie. An attorney and former journalist, he was the lone vote against the “Wyoming Repeal Gun-Free Zones Act.”
“The way that bill is written right now, anyone who can get a concealed carry permit can walk into my kids’ school with a gun,” Pelkey said. “I don’t have lot of faith. They talk about the right to bear arms, but that engenders a certain responsibility, a certain trust and a certain skill level. … I just don’t think it’s appropriate to have guns in schools.”
Perhaps Anthony Bouchard, director of Wyoming Gun Owners, could talk some sense into Pelkey and the other critics. Bouchard could have been a legislator himself, perhaps sitting on the Judiciary Committee, if he hadn’t been trounced in the Cheyenne Republican primary last August.
Bouchard had a direct message for opponents of Jaggi’s bill: “If people who testified against this bill don’t like it, they should petition [legislators] to change the Constitution.”
The gun rights advocate lashed out at “government officials who are getting paid very well — some in six-figures — to lobby against their government, and against the Constitution, which they have taken an oath to protect.”
Bouchard nearly worked himself into a frenzy when he mentioned the massacre of 33 people committed by a well-armed madman at Virginia Tech in 2007. While the media couldn’t shut up about all the gun violence, he said, nobody seemed too interested two years later when, at the same institution, a woman was beheaded.
He quoted a policeman: “When I first arrived at the scene, I saw a gentleman who had a head in his hand.”
Bouchard’s point? “This is the stuff we breed when you keep people defenseless,” he said.
Bob Wharff, Wyoming representative of the Utah-based Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a group that promotes private management and commercialization of wildlife, saved most of his rage for faculty at the University of Wyoming who spoke against HB 114.
“I guess I’m a little shocked, a little surprised, that those who are tasked with educating people in this state, in my opinion, either do not understand what the Wyoming Constitution says, or who think it’s irrelevant,” Wharff said. “I happen to believe otherwise. To our members, it matters.”
He wondered what these educators would say “if somewhere in our state we said the First Amendment is not honored.”
“Do we want to allow that right to be restricted?” Wharff asked. Uh, actually it’s several rights, and no.
He wasn’t done. “I believe it’s very inappropriate for the state to make people victims, and I believe that’s what this law will correct,” Wharff said.
Ted Schueler, a UW student, told the panel he had served as a military sniper and also spent two years training a Washington state police force how to respond to the threat of an active shooter.
“I believe this makes me an expert,” he said, noting that UW’s police chief has never issued a waiver to him or any other concealed carry permit holder to wear a gun on the Laramie campus.
Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R-Casper), a member of the committee, had a question for Schueler that required a long and possibly rehearsed preface. “To me it’s just grossly unfair that the country would ask you to put your life on the line to protect our freedoms, and you come home and you’re told you’re not even allowed to protect yourself on campus,” the Republican asked. “As someone in that position, how do you feel?”
“I feel surprised; that’s the best way to put it,” the student replied. “To be fighting for the freedom of other Americans and not being able to protect myself – I guess surprised and a little hurt as well.”
People who testified against HB 114 had to be prepared to deal with some pissed-off legislators, especially the committee’s chairman, Rep. David Miller (R-Riverton).
Donal O’Toole, a member of the UW Faculty Senate, said the idea of allowing guns on campus runs counter to experts’ recommendations that weapons should be made less accessible to high-risk students.
Miller interrupted to inform the speaker that the hearing didn’t have anything to do with suicide, even though some others had mentioned the issue.
“[Suicide], as you probably heard in testimony today, generally occurs at home,” Miller said. O’Toole told him at universities, dorms are students’ homes.
The chairman asked him how many students who have committed suicide were concealed carry permit holders. When O’Toole said he didn’t know, Miller said, “My guess is the number would probably be close to zero.”
O’Toole noted Wyoming has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world, but Miller had heard enough and told him his testimony wasn’t germane to the issue.
Rachel Keating, a UW Staff Senate member, said her organization’s recent poll on the issue of concealed carry showed support from only 7 percent, while 76 percent were opposed. The remainder, she said, wanted individuals to receive significantly more training in shooting than is now required for a permit.
“I just want to make a comment,” Miller interjected. “I don’t know of any major, real problems at UW. I had three kids graduate from there, and not one said there were any security problems.”
“People feel safe on campus. But many people think it would become a less safe environment if there were suddenly more guns on campus,” Keating countered.
“We’re just trying to look at future actions with this bill, and you’ve seen what some of these [terrorist] groups can do,” Miller maintained. “To keep something horrible from happening, we need a quick response.”
Miller then took a strange shot at UW’s administration. “I wish the UW president and the law enforcement chief would be [informed about] some of the higher security things that are going on at a national level,” he said. “Just be aware of those.”
Chris Boswell, UW’s vice president for governmental and community affairs, opposed the bill but suggested a number of amendments that were included in Idaho’s concealed carry law last year.
“There are limitations to it,” he explained. “An enhanced concealed carry permit requires additional training. Secondly, Idaho’s law does not allow concealed carry in dormitories and residence halls, or at certain athletic and entertainment events.
“Those seem like reasonable things to consider,” Boswell said.
Pelkey, meanwhile, said he believes HB 114 won’t have a difficult time winning approval in the House.
“It’s going to take someone in the Senate to kill it,” he predicted.