No need to change Wyoming's gun laws

No need to change Wyoming's gun laws

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Let's get one thing out of the way: We support the Second Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms. The Wyoming Constitution also spells out this protection for citizens, as it should.

That said, there's absolutely no reason for anyone to think that gun rights are in jeopardy, despite the cries from pro-gun organizations or the nationwide rush to buy firearms and ammunition since President Barack Obama's election.

In fact, as Libertarian columnist Steve Chapman pointed out in Monday's Star-Tribune, Obama has not proposed any new federal restrictions on firearms. It's not on his agenda. In two cases he's actually signed laws that ease federal restrictions: Guns are now allowed to be taken into national parks and to be checked as baggage on Amtrak.

But when there is no gun rights controversy, someone always seems willing to invent one. Such is the case in the Wyoming Legislature, where two issues have received much attention and support from lawmakers this budget session.

The first is the Wyoming Firearms Freedom Act, which is modeled after similar legislation that Montana passed last May. It's the subject of two bills: House Bill 28, sponsored by Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, and HB95, brought by Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman.

Both measures are now before the House Judiciary Committee. The bills assert that firearms built, sold and carried in Wyoming aren't subject to federal control. HB95 is the only one that spells out penalties: Any federal official who attempts to enforce any federal gun law on a Wyoming-made firearm could face two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. For state officials, it's up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Even if one of the bills is approved, its effect would largely be symbolic, as the state's gun manufacturing industry is limited to a handful of small companies. The federal government, meanwhile, isn't going to accept the notion that its ATF agents are criminals.

Which begs the question, if Montana already has the same basic law on the books and is prepared to defend it, why not let it absorb the cost of the legal challenge? Why do Wyoming lawmakers frequently insist that their political statements be paid for by taxpayers?

The other issue on the table in Cheyenne is concealed-carry permits, which Wyoming and 47 other states issue. It's a well-established system that helps keep firearms out of the hands of people who have committed felonies or are mentally ill. It's a public safety matter, and there is absolutely no demonstrated need to change it.

But HB 113, sponsored by Rep. Lorraine Quarberg, R-Thermopolis, would change state law to allow people to carry concealed firearms without needing permits. It's another "statement" bill, but one that could have tragic consequences. As noted by Rep. James Byrd, D-Cheyenne, one of six House members who voted against the bill upon introduction, "It adds another level of danger to our peace officers who are the front line in the field. It ties their hands in determining whether or not an individual is lawfully carrying a weapon or not."

Senate President John Hines, R-Gillette, expressed the fears of many Wyoming citizens when he said, "I guess my thoughts are there are a lot of crazy people out in the world anymore, and I'm not sure I want them all to have a concealed weapon."

The permit system works, and it poses no Second Amendment threat. There's no need to turn Wyoming into the OK Corral.

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