CHEYENNE - A bill that would allow firearms in elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities and sporting events on government-owned property passed the first vote in the Wyoming House Wednesday.
But that doesn’t mean the bill will become law without changes.
Retired school principal Rep. Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment, said the bill needs to be altered to allow school administrators to have input on who is carrying in their building.
Without it, “I’m not sure I can ensure the safety of my kids,” he said.
“If someone wants to bring a second-reading amendment, we can have a discussion about elementary and secondary schools,” said Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, a bill sponsor.
House Bill 105 was amended Wednesday to allow both concealed and open carry in schools as long as people have state-issued concealed carry permits. As originally written, it only allowed concealed carry.
Gingery felt especially committed to allowing firearms at sporting events. The Teton County deputy attorney said a man once entered his office and held him hostage because he didn't like how Gingery was pursuing a case.
“I had no way of protecting myself,” he said. “As soon as that incident happened, the chief of police said, ‘You need to own a gun.’”
Gingery said the man went to prison but he has friends. Gingery enjoys attending basketball games and current law prevents him from carrying his weapon in public facilities. Yet the chances he could run into one of the man’s friends at a sporting event is high because such events swim with people, he said.
Chris Boswell, lobbyist for the University of Wyoming, said after the House vote that the university administration is concerned about the prospect of losing its authority to maintain its current policy of prohibiting students from carrying weapons either openly or concealed.
"I believe the trustees, through the regulation, have indicated that the risks may outweigh the benefits of allowing guns to be carried on the university campus," Boswell said, adding that the university has a police force.
The House passed House Bill 216 on first reading, which would allow judges to decide who can have a deadly weapon in a courtroom.
Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Lingle, was concerned about small courthouses. “If somebody walks into city hall and they’re paying a utility bill, I don’t want them to get a $10,000 fine” because they’re carrying a weapon when a judge has prohibited it.
“I would say it’s a courtroom when the judge is presiding, and not a courtroom when the judge is not presiding,” said Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, a sponsor of the bill. "I’d be amenable to a second-reading amendment.”
The bill is necessary because in the absence of state law, judges are using “inherent authority” to decide whether to ban weapons, Gingery said.
Rep. James Byrd, D-Cheyenne, thought the entire bill was ridiculous. He felt compelled to speak against it.
“I don’t really like the bill but I think we’ve already made up our minds,” he said. “So this is more of an exercise in government.”
The House passed on first reading House Bill 103, which gives gun regulation to the state Legislature and not cities, towns or counties.
Some places, like Casper, have passed weapons restrictions that are different than state law, said Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville.
“You don’t want a hodgepodge of laws across the state,” he said.
The bill was amended to allow communities to prohibit the discharge of firearms to assist places like Sublette County, which prohibits discharging because of the large amount of migrating wildlife. Another amendment keeps guns and private property intact.
“You still can have shooting ranges and those, the towns and counties still regulate,” said Gingery, a bill sponsor.
The House gave initial approval to a bill that would make it a felony to enforce stricter federal gun regulations created after last month's elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn. -- but not after discussion about the Civil War, Colorado and marijuana.
House Bill 104 would prohibit public servants from enforcing any federal law or presidential executive order that limits the size of magazines and firearms or ban semi-automatic weapons – measures President Barack Obama called for after the Connecticut shootings.
Kroeker reminded the House of the Second Amendment.
“We take an oath to protect the Constitution,” he said.
The federal government has clearly infringed on the public’s right to bear arms, he said.
There is precedent of federal agents being tried for breaking state laws, said Gingery, who sponsored a successful amendment that would make the punishment in HB104 a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
It can be done, he said. The trial takes place in federal court, he added.
To critics who said it’s unconstitutional to try to trump federal law, Gingery pointed out the marijuana law in Colorado.
“Colorado has said we don’t care about federal law, and the federal government has decided just to let it go,” Gingery said. “The current administration has shown they’re not going to get into these battles with states.”
But Rep. Mary Throne, R-Cheyenne, disagreed with Gingery’s history. She said nullification is part of U.S. tradition, but in the 1860s it led to the Civil War.
She also disagreed with Gingery's comparison to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.
“The Colorado situation is a referendum, not a legislative initiative,” Throne said. “Also, that certainly hasn’t been litigated."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.