An ordinance banning people from openly carrying guns at Casper city meetings received initial approval Tuesday from the City Council.
After more than two hours of debate, the council voted 6-3 in favor of the ordinance, which would make it illegal to bring a deadly weapon to any city meeting.
Two more votes are required before the ordinance would become law. The council will discuss when to hold the next vote on Monday.
Council members who supported the measure said they wanted people to attend city meetings without feeling threatened by others.
“I don’t want to see intimidation in public debate,” said Ward 1 representative Kate Sarosy.
Some spoke about feeling threatened because of their position. Councilwoman Kenyne Schlager noted that Mayor Paul Bertoglio received concerning emails after the council began discussing a possible gun ban.
Schlager said she’s received received hate mail and threats.
“When I couple that with the statement of being ‘tired of government,’ to me I feel we have trouble brewing,” she said. “And personally, I want to head that off.”
Bertoglio joined council members Maury Daubin and Keith Goodenough in opposing the ordinance.
Goodenough said there was no evidence that anyone has ever caused problems by carrying a gun at a city meeting. Arguments about intimidation also failed to move him.
“When it comes to intimidation, people around here have a pretty thin skin,” he said.
Daubin wanted to postpone a decision until after the Legislature had an opportunity to consider the issue. He said the issue needed a uniform solution, but added that he would probably support the ordinance if the Legislature doesn’t act next session.
“Part of our duty is to encourage public debate, and there are people who are offended and fearful of the presence of a gun,” he said.
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State law already bars people from carrying a concealed firearm into a council meeting. It is legal, however, to openly carry a gun. The ordinance was written to address the discrepancy.
Tuesday’s meeting featured a larger police presence than usual. In addition to Police Chief Chris Walsh, who usually attends council gatherings, three plainclothes officers stood watch in the chamber. Three other officers, including two in uniform, walked the lobby area.
Only one citizen, Wyoming Gun Owners Executive Director Anthony Bouchard, openly carried a gun in the chambers.
Ordinance supporters questioned why someone would need to carry a gun at a government meeting. The council chambers, they argued, is a place for peaceable discussion.
“This is such a valuable opportunity to be able to come in and address public elected officials and engage in civil discourse,” said Bob Mullen, the former city attorney. “I think we should be very careful about anything that limits or discourages people from expressing themselves.
Police can provide security at city meetings, added Casper resident Mary Lou Morrison. At least one officer is usually present at council gatherings.
“I guess I feel the only reason that a person would wear a gun to meeting like this or any public meeting is to intimidate, frighten or scare, or boost a very, very dangerously weak ego,” she said.
Opponents said the ordinance wouldn’t deter anyone with homicidal plans from bringing a gun into the council chambers.
“Law-abiding citizens aren’t the ones you have to worry about,” Bouchard said. “Specifically, I don’t know of any case where we see open-carry people doing anything.”
Other noted that Bouchard’s decision to openly carry a gun at the meeting didn’t cause intimidation or prevent the council from running a civil meeting.
“What is the rule that says if somebody walks in here, that open carry doesn’t make a peaceable assembly?” asked state Sen. Kit Jennings.
Opponents of the gun ban have said they will file suit against the city if the council ultimately passes the ordinance.