CHEYENNE — Concealed weapons may be allowed in city council and county commission meetings if an amendment to a gun bill is approved by the state Legislature.
The House Judiciary Committee heard two gun bills Monday, approving one about guns in courthouses and amending another about government meetings.
The committee room had at least two security guards during the meeting. That was to be expected.
House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, bundled controversial and social issues bills to be heard and debated in the House on Monday, today and Wednesday so that extra security could be hired. The gun bills were among the bundle. The committee will consider additional gun bills beginning at 8 a.m. today.
Guns at government meetings
House Bill 200 was originally written to allow people to carry concealed weapons into government meetings, except the Legislature, if the carrier received permission from the executive head of the entity holding the meeting. Open carry is currently legal.
But committee member Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, amended the bill to lift all concealed carry restrictions at government meetings, except the Legislature.
After the bill was amended, the committee approved it.
Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, introduced the bill after concern at the Cody City Hall.
Northrup said a person regularly attends city council meetings there with an open gun. That makes other people in Cody nervous, and they want to be able to carry concealed guns, he said.
“They feel like they’re sitting ducks in a courtroom,” Northrup said.
Jackson resident Maury Jones supported the bill. He believes “bad guys” will carry weapons regardless of the law.
“You need a good guy to stop the bad guy,” he said.
Jones said history proves concealed weapons shouldn’t be restricted.
“Every single mass shooting since 1950 except for Gabby Giffords’ has happened in a gun-free zone,” Jones said.
Kroeker said the government meetings bill is the beginning of a series bills the House will consider that look at changing the state’s concealed carry permit laws, which prohibit concealed weapons entirely or with some exceptions at jails, prisons, the state hospital, the Legislature, places of worship, colleges, bars, athletic events not related to firearms and other places where the federal government prohibits concealed weapons.
Guns in courtrooms
House Bill 216 would put into law the common practice now of banning deadly weapons from courtrooms in the state. Supporters say it would remove any doubt that weapons are not allowed in the courtroom.
The legislation would make it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years behind bars and a fine of up to $10,000, if someone takes a deadly weapon into a courtroom without prior permission of a judge.
“It basically gives the judge sole authority over the courtroom,” said Kroeker, a sponsor of the bill.
The bill clarifies the law, supporters say.
In recent years throughout the United States, some judges have believed they have “inherent authority” to ban weapons from their courtrooms, said Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, also a bill sponsor. County commissioners sometimes take issue with that, because counties maintain courthouses. The issue may eventually be taken before the U.S. Supreme Court. In Wyoming, legislators discussed one unnamed judge who is exercising what he believes is his authority to ban guns.
Meanwhile, the bill’s sponsors want a state statute to settle the matter, at least in the Cowboy State.
“I wanted to put it to rest in the courtroom,” Brown said, “only in the courtroom.”
Laramie County Judge Peter Arnold supported the bill, and said legislators should consider expanding a judge’s authority to the environs outside the courtroom.
“The likelihood of mischief is present in the immediate area outside the courtroom,” he said. “That’s where the witnesses, that’s where the parties come into close physical contact.”
Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, committee chairman and bill sponsor, said that some Wyoming courthouses, like one in Lander, don’t just have courtrooms but county offices.
“The courtrooms are mixed with the clerks and the treasurers, and it’s a hard building to secure,” he said.