CHEYENNE — Wyoming school districts would have the option of allowing school employees to carry concealed guns in schools under a bill approved Wednesday by a legislative committee.
House Bill 194 does not require school districts to allow employees to carry guns. But it does say that employees who are allowed to carry guns must have concealed carry permits.
The bill was advanced by the House Education Committee on an 8-1 vote, which sends the bill to the full House for consideration.
Supporters of the bill said allowing employees to carry firearms would improve safety, especially for schools in rural areas, which could be far from law enforcement.
Opponents raised concerns that having guns around, which could potentially be accessed by children, decreases safety.
The bill does not provide specific training requirements, and several lawmakers, including some in favor of the bill, said that issue should be addressed.
Rep. John Eklund, R-Cheyenne, is the lead sponsor of the bill and said allowing a large amount of local control is part of the bill’s design.
“I am trusting the school boards around the state to find the right training,” he said.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said she is in support of the bill, and said contrary to jokes made in recent days about guns in schools, “it’s a really serious matter.”
Balow was referencing a comment made by Betsy DeVos, a candidate for U.S. Secretary of Education, in which DeVos told members of Congress a Wyoming school probably has guns in schools to protect against grizzlies.
Balow emphasized the importance of local control and encouraged the Legislature to put more “guardrails” on the bill.
She also said school districts need to be thinking about larger safety plans when considering whether to allow concealed carry.
Taft Love, a Laramie County School District 2 board member, said six of the board’s nine members support the bill, and noted that schools like Albin are far from law enforcement.
“We have elementary schools that are a long way from any officer,” he said.
But others were still concerned about guns being near children.
Kathy Vetter of the Wyoming Education Association said her organization is against the bill.
And Rep. Debbie Bovee, D-Casper, said some of the bill’s language seemed too loose.
Bovee also cited examples that concerned her, including a kindergarten teacher having a gun in a classroom full of small children, or where an older student could assault a teacher and gain access to a firearm.
Rep. John Freeman, D-Green River, said while he also is “very uncomfortable” about having guns in schools and would rather see more school resource officers, the bill could help safety in rural areas.
“I think that this gives small communities some sort of protection,” he said.
Committee members voting in favor of the bill were Freeman and Reps. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne; Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull; Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle; Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan; Jerry Paxton, R-Encampment; Garry Piiparinen, R-Evanston; and David Northrup, R-Powell.
Bovee voted against.
The bill moves to the full House for consideration and if passed there, it will go to the Senate.