What once appeared to be an inevitable wild “Shootout in the Senate” Wednesday over a controversial House bill allowing guns in schools had all the suspense of a tenderfoot going up against Wyatt Earp.
The Senate dispatched House Bill 114 on third reading by a 25-3 vote, ending by far the strangest dispute between the two chambers this session.
HB 114, sponsored by Sen. Allen Jaggi (R-Lyman), began as a three-page measure but was expanded to a 14-page behemoth of a bill when it was amended by the Senate Education Committee (SEC).
Originally the bill would have made it legal for concealed carry permit holders to possess guns at public schools, colleges, school and college athletic events and governmental meetings, including the Legislature. Possessing a concealed weapon at all of these places now is illegal.
The House approved the bill 42-17 and sent it to the Senate, where it was quickly dismantled and reassembled into something a little more palatable to the education organizations that all testified against the House version. After hearing testimony from both sides at a public hearing, SEC Chairman Hank Coe (R-Cody) announced there was a standing committee amendment to be considered.
The panel adopted the amendment, which would have allowed concealed weapons in the same places as the House bill, except the governing body of each facility would decide whether to approve the policy, unlike the state mandate in HB 114. If a school board, board of trustees, city council, county commission or the Legislative Management Council chose to allow guns, each permit holder would have to let officials know they were carrying a concealed weapon.
Gun rights advocates, who are never going to be satisfied until they can take their weapons anywhere they damn well please, were outraged by Coe’s substitute bill. The Wyoming Gun Owners group called it a “bad counterfeit” that was turned into a gun control measure. But the full Senate approved it on first reading Monday, and the bill was only amended slightly on second reading to clarify the legality of having weapons in cars in a gun-free school zone. The Senate decided the weapons had to be concealed in vehicles.
Coe unsuccessfully tried to strip that amendment, which was offered by Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper), because he said it does not comply with federal law that requires weapons in vehicles to be unloaded. It didn’t matter, because the Senate then voted on HB 114 and it went down in flames. Only Scott, Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) and Sen. Ray Peterson (R-Cowley) voted for the bill.
Some observers — including your WyPols correspondent — speculated earlier this week the Senate would likely approve the substitute bill, which would set up a joint conference committee so far apart it couldn’t come to any compromise, thus dooming the proposal.
But we were wrong, it didn’t come down to that. The Senate made certain the bill was killed, and given the drubbing it received in the Senate, and the fact the same legislators will be in both houses, there is virtually no chance the issue will come up again in the shorter budget session in 2016.
Did some senators like the idea of concealed handguns in schools and other public places, and voted “no” because they were upset with the Senate bill’s restrictions?
Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) said he doesn’t think that was the case at all. “My understanding is that in the beginning, you might have had a split — some of them for, some of them against the original version of the bill,” Rothfuss said. “When the substitute bill was brought in, the emails and other feedback we were getting was all ‘kill this bill.'”
The senator said there was unconfirmed talk in the Senate that even the National Rifle Association came out against the Senate version of HB 114. “That’s what it came down to,” Rothfuss said. “Both the proponents and opponents were against the bill in its final form.”
In a gloomy session in which Medicaid expansion and an anti-discrimination bill protecting the LGBT population overwhelmingly failed, it was good to see at least one decision that will actually help people. Parents can send their kids to school and people can attend city council meetings without having to fear they will be hit by bullets fired by their self-appointed “protectors.”