An armed officer dressed in a suit and tie stood behind Casper City Council on Tuesday as members patiently listened to seven arguments for or against banning openly carried weapons in city meetings.
In the end, votes remained the same as those cast at the previous council meeting. Weapons are no longer allowed in city government meetings.
“I expect this issue is not going to go away,” Mayor Paul Bertoglio said.
He and council members Keith Goodenough, Bill Brauer and Maury Daubin opposed the ordinance that would restrict weapons in city government meetings. Council members Kate Sarosy, Paul Meyer, Kenyne Schlager, Kim Holloway and Charlie Powell supported the measure.
Opponents argued that the ordinance is unconstitutional and an encroachment on Second Amendment rights. Anthony Bouchard, Wyoming Gun Owners executive director, said it is at the local level that rights are slowly eroded.
“It’s almost a good thing they did it because it’s going to wake up a lot of people,” he said.
In response to the constitutional arguments, Bertoglio said the council has not ignored the document, as the Constitution allows local governments flexibility.
Council members have cited reasons for enacting the law including: addressing a discrepancy between open- and concealed-carry laws, since it is already illegal to carry a concealed weapon at meetings; protecting public safety; and creating a place for free speech without intimidation.
Bertoglio has said in the past that his opposition to the ordinance is based on his belief that it is not necessary.
“Passing this ordinance will do nothing to make us safer. Nothing,” Bertoglio said.
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Guns have no place in council chambers, whether held by audience members or the extra officers assigned to the meeting, and there have been no past problems to spark legislation, Bertoglio said.
R.C. Johnson, chairwoman of the Natrona County Democratic Committee, said it is a matter of setting an example, and a weapon is a tool that has no place in a city meeting.
“What you are doing is providing a model for our children,” she said.
Schlager said she supported the ordinance because it ensures a safe place to speak.
“To me, we hinder debate when we have weapons in the room,” she said.
The council added two amendments to the original proposal before it passed. One amendment, put forth by Holloway, would rescind the city law when the Wyoming Legislature allows weapons in its meetings. The second, proposed by Daubin, created an exemption for pocketknives.
While Bouchard said the pocketknife concession was something, it doesn’t make up for restricting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
“It doesn’t make us feel warm and fuzzy,” he said.
In response to opponents’ fears that the law would lead the way for further regulation, Powell and Meyer said they would not support any further gun restrictions.
Bouchard has previously said the organization would sue the city if the ordinance passed. With a legislative session coming up, he said Tuesday there are no definite plans to bring a lawsuit against the city of Casper at this time.