The House’s large pro-gun contingent watched the Senate Education Committee approve its Wyoming Repeal (of) Gun Free Zones Act on Wednesday morning, and still walked away mad as hell.
That’s because instead of passing the three-page House Bill 114 the panel considered, the chairman of the committee sponsored an amendment about four times longer that in effect was a completely new bill.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Allen Jaggi (R-Lyman), said he felt blindsided by the substitute bill and thinks it’s unconstitutional, because he claims it isn’t germane to his original bill.
Coe said he wanted to amend HB 114 to give more local control to school districts, colleges and government agencies to decide whether they want people with concealed carry permits to be able to have guns on their premises. The committee heard a slew of educational representatives Wednesday who said gun-free zones should not be a state mandate, but an issue decided locally.
Local control is an issue dear to the hearts of Wyoming’s conservatives — unless it means they can’t have their way. When that happens watch out, brothers and sisters, because fire and brimstone will soon be flying.
Coe’s amendment required the institutions, schools or government agencies where guns could be legally carried under the bill to first approve that policy, then anyone with a weapon would need to notify the appropriate authority they are armed. Areas where concealed weapons would be allowed must be posted.
Supporters of the original HB 114 maintained the Second Amendment already gives them an absolute right to be armed. But Coe said reasonable regulation of guns is necessary, and it’s best to leave the issue in the hands of local elected officials.
“I’m very disappointed that you have a substitute bill. Usually we don’t do that,” Jaggi scolded Coe. “We have amendments to the bill, and then we make a substitute bill. You never gave me the courtesy of seeing this and have any input on it.”
“I understand your concern, but we do incorporate in there the five points you have [in HB 114],” Coe responded. “This was never intended to be a substitute bill. It was brought to us as a standing committee amendment.”
That explanation might have been more effective had the words “substitute bill” not appeared in the upper right-hand corner of the amendment. One of HB 114’s original sponsors, Rep. Garry Piiparinen (R-Evanston), immediately asked for his name to be taken off the bill, and Jaggi told reporters he couldn’t support the measure as amended by the committee.
Jaggi said Utah has allowed people with concealed carry permits to take weapons to school, colleges and public buildings for 15 years, allegedly without any problems.
“There has been no blood in the streets and no major incidents in their schools,” he asserted.
At the same time, the legislator said, he respects private property rights, and if someone wants to ban weapons from their property, he’s OK with it.
Republican legislators who support the House version yielded their time to speak to John Lott of Chicago, author of “More Guns, Less Crime.” Lott said his research shows people with concealed carry permits are more law-abiding than police officers, and can be trusted to handle their guns safely.
Gun-free zones, he maintained, “serve as a magnet” to unhinged people who want to shoot up a school, theater or mall. He cited several instances of mass shooters who carefully eliminated potential targets because there might be people with guns, in favor of places with unarmed victims who can’t defend themselves.
Lynn Hutchings, a former Republican state representative from Cheyenne who lost her bid for the Senate last year, said she was a target of “vile and vicious” abuse — including death threats — because she spoke out in favor of gun rights in 2013.
Charles Curley asked the committee to “vote on the facts, not the what-ifs.” Several of the pro-gun speakers said opponents routinely develop scenarios about gun violence that are not based in reality.
Anthony Bouchard, president of the Wyoming Gun Owners Association, said he was treated much better in Utah when he openly carried his gun at a mall. “They said, ‘If it wasn’t for good guys like you, the bad guys will come,'” he recalled.
Well, there you go. If Utah is your idea of gun heaven, Mr. Bouchard, what are you doing here? We’ll help you pack your moving van. For free. Now.
Rachel Stevens, president of the University of Wyoming Staff Senate, said a survey with 1,355 respondents showed the vast majority expressed concern that concealed carry permit holders may not have the level of training that’s necessary in cases where there is an active shooter on campus.
If you listen for very long to gun rights advocates who have concealed carry permits, they make it sound as if they’ve earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in gun training and knowledge.
The vice president of the UW Staff Senate, Aaron Sullivan, said he’s a veteran and hunter, but all he had to do to get a concealed carry permit in Wyoming was pay $79 and show his hunter safety card. “I couldn’t believe it was that easy,” he said.
Sullivan said what he’s really worried about is if HB 114 passes, guns would be allowed at UW athletic contests.
“I don’t know if you’ve been there, but there are a lot of intoxicated people at UW football games,” he noted.
A Cheyenne East High School senior said a poll she did prior to the meeting showed 39 students said they would feel safer with guns at school, 21 were neutral, and 102 said they would feel unsafe. She said if students don’t feel safe in their environment, “they can’t learn.”
Matt Strannigan, assistant superintendent of schools at Laramie County School District No. 1 in Cheyenne, said he knows from his time as a principal that the idea of guns in school “panics students.”
Both people who ran for state superintendent of public instruction last year — Republican winner Jillian Balow and Democratic challenger Mike Ceballos — testified against HB 114.
Ceballos said Wyoming needs a long-term, sustainable safety plan. “We need to think about the students,” he said.
Balow said she is a gun owner and strong believer in Second Amendment rights, but she believes any decisions about whether to allow concealed guns at schools “should be made at the local level.”
Recalling her days as a teacher, she said, “I don’t know if I would want to carry a weapon in the classroom.”
Voting for the amended version of HB 114 were Coe, Sen. Stephan Pappas (R-Cheyenne) and Sen. James Anderson (R-Glenrock).Voting against the bill were Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) and Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie).