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Legi House

Members of the public view the House Chambers from the gallery area in February at the Wyoming Legislature in Cheyenne. 

In 1999, I was serving on the Laramie County School District #1 school board when the Columbine High School massacre occurred, killing 12 students and one teacher just down I-25 in Colorado. It was a shooting that deeply affected our nation’s culture, prompting national conversation on topics from guns to goths. I felt distraught—what if that was my school? My kids? But it was not until in 2012, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where 20 six and seven-year-old children and six adults were shot and killed that I felt compelled to take action. As a mother and grandmother, I could no longer just hope for it to end. I searched for an organization that represented my values — a belief in the Second Amendment but rooted in the reality that there are common-sense policies to keep guns away from people who should not have them. That’s how I found Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

It has been over a week since a troubled 19-year-old shot and killed 17 people and injured 14 more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. We are seeing high school students interviewed on the news, holding press conferences, writing op-eds, organizing protests, calling their representatives in Congress, even meeting with the president. Teenagers are taking the lead in gun violence prevention — and they are doing it because adults in this country have failed them by allowing history to repeat itself.

It is no secret that gun lobby money has been entrenched in local, state and federal government for decades. Right now in Wyoming, in the wake of the Parkland shooting, the gun lobby is currently pushing dangerous and completely unreasonable “Stand Your Ground” bills through the state Legislature. Senate File 71 and House Bill 168 are proposals that would distort all traditional self-defense principles by explicitly allowing people to shoot to kill someone in public even when there is a clear and safe alternative.

Current, longstanding Wyoming law allows a person to use force in self-defense, including deadly force, whenever the circumstances are reasonable. This “reasonableness requirement” gives Wyomingites the ability to protect themselves while recognizing that it is always better to avoid taking a life, if possible.

Additionally, Wyoming law already has no affirmative duty to retreat. SF 71 and HB 168 go further, prohibiting a judge or jury from even considering whether a person was unreasonable in opting to kill another person, rather than avoid an armed conflict.

As if that’s not bad enough, both of these measures also make it significantly harder for our law enforcement officers and prosecutors to do their jobs. These bills would prohibit law enforcement from even arresting a murder suspect unless they can prove in advance the shooter’s use of force was not necessary. Once arrested, every homicide defendant would be entitled to a special hearing where the prosecutor would be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s use of force was not justified. These hurdles would make it incredibly difficult for law enforcement officers to uncover the facts of a shooting, drastically impeding homicide investigations, and would obstruct prosecutors’ ability to pursue cases.

The gun lobby is attempting to shove these “Stand Your Ground” bills through by fear mongering voters. But despite the assertions of the gun lobby, research shows that “Stand Your Ground” laws do not deter crime. They are, however, associated with a clear increase in homicides. In 2013, the Tampa Bay Times found that at least 26 children and teens have been killed since 2005 in cases in Florida where “Stand Your Ground” was invoked. In fact, after Florida passed its “Stand Your Ground” law, homicides determined to be justifiable tripled.

I’m the mother of a U.S. Army veteran of the Iraq war and an active duty Marine with three tours to Afghanistan. My sons assure me that that there is something seriously wrong with a person who wants to shoot or kill another person. These bills are reckless and speak to a broader troubling issue in our society — supporting the idea that someone should shoot to kill first without trying to find a nonviolent solution.

SF 71 and HB 168 are groundless and completely unnecessary proposals. Wyoming’s current self-defense laws are sufficient and just. Making such drastic changes in our laws is a path to tragedy. Instead, I urge our elected leaders to use this short budget session to focus on funding education and addressing our state’s economy. Our children and grandchildren are watching.

Beth Howard is a Cheyenne resident and a volunteer with the Wyoming chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

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