CHEYENNE -- Wyoming residents would be able to carry concealed guns without a permit under a bill that cleared the state Senate on Monday.
The Wyoming Senate voted 20-10 in favor of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper.
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.
Supporters of the Wyoming bill note that the state and federal constitutions guarantee the people's right to carry guns. They also say criminals are already carrying concealed weapons illegally.
Opponents, however, said they're worried about putting more guns into hands of people who shouldn't have them.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, voted for the bill. "In my heart, it just comes down to responsible people following the law and carrying a gun are not a threat," he said after the Senate hearing.
"It's people not following the law, or who are mentally over the top, they're not going to be deterred by a law that says you can't carry it," Case said. "To me, in the end, it's pretty clear."
Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, spoke against the bill on the Senate floor.
"Here we're all for protecting the right to keep and bear arms," Scott said after the vote. "My thought was this bill was dangerous in that respect, in that it removed some of the controls we have on people carrying concealed weapons who are likely to be dangerous."
Scott said the average person could manage a concealed weapon. "It's the people that drink too much, and the people who are just plain literally crazy that you have to worry about," he said.
Wyoming already has issued more than 20,000 permits that allow citizens to carry concealed guns. The state would retain its permit system if Jennings' bill becomes law because the permits allow people to carry concealed in other states that have agreements with Wyoming.
Scott said it's debatable whether the existing permit system gives law enforcement enough discretion to deny permit applications.
"This law goes the exact opposite direction," and justifiably makes law enforcement nervous, Scott said. "I think there's a risk if this passes you're going to have a real tragedy, the left-wing gun control folks are going to use as an excuse for pushing some gun control that really would be dangerous for our rights."
Several law enforcement officials urged a Senate committee last week to consider carefully any change to the state's existing permit system.
Anthony Bouchard, executive of the Wyoming Gun Owners Association, said his group has been lobbying for the bill.
"We certainly want criminals to be punished to the max," Bouchard said. "But we don't want people that are just exercising their right to defend themselves penalized when they have no ill intent."