The Senate passed a House bill Monday to allow people to carry concealed guns at schools, virtually assuring that a bill allowing people to carry guns at schools will not be approved by the Legislature this year.
State senators gave a thumbs up to their own version of House Bill 114, the Wyoming Repeal Gun-Free Zones Act. But a minority of the Senate and a majority of the House view the substitute bill as a gun-control measure, not the gun rights bill they want to see adopted.
Both bills would change existing law to allow people with concealed carry permits to have guns at public schools, colleges, school athletic events and governmental meetings. But unlike the state mandate in HB 114, the Senate version would require the approval of the local governing body, and notification to officials that a person was carrying a concealed gun.
An amendment adopting the Senate changes passed 20-9, and there was wide support for the bill in the subsequent consideration of the bill on first reading. HB 114 will likely pass the Senate on final reading Wednesday, but there’s realistically no chance House members will concur with the Senate’s changes, dooming its passage this session.
The House is much more conservative than the Senate and believes the Second Amendment gives people an absolute right to bear arms. The Senate thinks that right is not absolute and should be reasonably regulated.
Senate President Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie) spelled out the different philosophies:
“As much as you have the right to bear arms, people who send their children to school have every right to determine who they want to be their protectors,” he said. “Just as much as you have the right in your own home to decide if your neighbor can come into your house and defend you, you might say, ‘Look, stay home. I’ll do my own defending or I’ll call the police.'”
Nicholas said all communities are different, and each one should be able to decide the issue.
“The notion that somehow your right to bear arms means you get to go into places where people send their children, and tell those families ‘I’m here for your good, and you have to let me here because I have a concealed weapon,’ that certainly has never been the law of Wyoming in the past,” Nicholas said.
Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) said concealed carry permit holders “are incredibly law-abiding citizens, they’re incredibly careful.”
Case said when there is a mass shooting at a public place, “The reaction people have is to cower, to hide, or try to run away.”
“If you can get away that’s good, but the most important thing to do if you can’t is to fight back with everything you have,” Case said. “It only takes seconds for mayhem to occur. In the time you spent calling 911 you could have rushed the attacker or thrown a trash can at them.
“If you resist them with every effort you have, that’s what you have to do,” he continued. “And if you have a gun, you should use it. You should use that gun, even if you’re not the best shot or weren’t the best marksman, because at that point it’s the only chance you’ll have. That’s what we are trying to do with this bill.”
Case said the idea of using school resource officers in every school can’t possibly work, because it’s cost prohibitive. “They can’t be everywhere in a school,” he noted. “They can’t check every backpack.”
But Sen. Stephan Pappas (R-Cheyenne) said, “Many people in these gun-free zones really have a fear of having concealed weapons in schools. And no one on the other side seems to understand that fear.”
“There’s a place for weapons, and people who should handle weapons in certain situations,” the freshman senator said. “I know that in the military they teach you about crisis situations and how to tell friend from foe. I don ‘t think too many of the gun safety [classes] teach that.”
Pappas said it’s not a one-size-fits-all issue. “Let’s let those local folks decide if they need to allow weapons at a remote school, or not allow weapons at a university football game,” he said.
“I believe it tramples on my rights if someone comes into a school where I have my children, and makes themselves the de facto police force, without training and without [the] knowledge of the administration,” Pappas said.