CHEYENNE -- Wyoming residents would be able to carry concealed guns without state permits under a bill that received preliminary approval in the state Senate Thursday.
Senators voted 21-8 in favor of the bill, Senate File 47, sponsored by Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper. It faces two more votes in the Senate before heading to the House for debate.
If the bill ultimately becomes law, Wyoming would join Alaska, Arizona and Vermont as states that don't require citizens to have permits to carry concealed weapons.
Jennings started discussion of the bill by reading provisions of the state and federal constitutions that codify citizens' right to gun ownership. He said he doesn't expect enacting his bill would create any problems.
"Currently, in Wyoming, you can open-carry, you can strap it on and go anyplace you want," Jennings said of handguns. He said state residents are familiar with responsible gun ownership, given the state's strong hunting tradition.
Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, voted against the bill. He said he's concerned it would allow people to carry concealed weapons without requiring they undergo training or show that they have the experience to handle guns safely.
"Obviously we have the right to keep and bear arms, but we also have the right to safety," Rothfuss said. He emphasized that the state's current concealed-weapons permit system requires training and background checks.
"I'm very concerned about a situation now that anybody who goes out to the store and buys a weapon and has no idea of what to do with it can be walking next to me and my kids," Rothfuss said.
Wyoming would retain its current concealed-carry permit system if the bill passes so people could continue to carry concealed guns in other states that have reciprocal agreements.
Sen. John Hines, R-Gillette, said he's concerned that average people won't understand that they would still have to meet certain qualifications under the bill to carry concealed guns. The bill imposes requirements including that people be at least 21 years old, not have been convicted of serious crimes or been adjudicated mentally defective.
Hines noted that spokesmen from several law enforcement groups expressed opposition or concern about the bill at an earlier committee hearing. He said the state already has issued about 21,000 concealed-carry permits and has only rejected about 1 percent of applications.
"So the people that need the permits can pretty much get them," Hines said.
Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said convicts and other dangerous people are already carrying concealed guns illegally.
The state and federal constitutions are clear on the issues of gun ownership, Driskill said. "There's not any ifs, ands or but," he said. "It says, 'You will be allowed."'
The Senate voted 18-11 against an amendment that would have allowed citizens from other states to carry concealed weapons in Wyoming.
The Senate also voted down a bill sponsored by Rothfuss that he said would have clarified the rights of retired state and federal police officers to carry concealed guns.