Gun rights activists in Wyoming are preparing for a contentious legislative debate over permission for the concealed carry of firearms in public buildings.
On Thursday, Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, introduced the Wyoming Repeal Gun Free Zones Act. The bill, House Bill 114, would allow for the concealed carry of weapons in governmental buildings and schools and at universities and colleges across the state.
Anthony Bouchard, executive director of Wyoming Gun Owners, points to Utah as an example for the benefit of concealed carry in public buildings.
“There is no need for more study,” Bouchard said. “Utah has been a study for over 15 years, and it’s working. A state with over 3 million people, with significant violent crime, and you don’t see them fighting over lawful carry. It’s not the lawful carriers that are the problem.”
Bouchard said the Wyoming Constitution does not provide for government entities to restrict people's right to carry a weapon on public property.
“It doesn’t say, ‘But a school district can take your right away,’” he said. “It says that that right shall not be denied.”
But Wyoming educators say concealed carry in the state’s schools would cause several concerns for student safety.
“We support the Second Amendment rights, but our priority is the safety of our students,” said Kathy Vetter, president of the Wyoming Education Association. “For that reason, we can’t support the bill. We could better serve our students by looking at safety in our school buildings.”
Vetter points to improvements in the safety of school buildings to better control visitor traffic, the addition of school resource officers and the addition of preventative mental health services.
“There are still other things that we can do to increase security at schools,” Vetter said. “Really, they are small things that could be done that could increase safety for our schools and students.”
Ron Laird, Wyoming High School Activities Association commissioner, said the association would side with the schools.
“With the emotion that sometimes gets involved in some of those events, I’m not sure it’s very positive to have firearms inside,” Laird said.
The proposed legislation would not apply to courthouses and would continue to allow private property owners to restrict concealed carry on their grounds.
Bouchard points to churches as a public space in which concealed carry regulation is left to the citizenry.
“Understand if a church, a private entity, wants to allow someone to carry if they have a permit or don’t have a permit, that’s their business,” Bouchard said. “The government has no business telling a church what they can do. They are a private entity.”
Similar legislation was passed by the Wyoming House of Representatives in 2014. The bill failed in a Senate committee.
House leadership has yet to assign HB114 to a committee.
It is co-sponsored by Reps. Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs; Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan; Kendell Kroeker, R-Casper; Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance; Bunky Loucks, R-Casper, David Miller, R-Riverton; Garry Piiparinen, R-Evanston; and Tom Reeder, R-Casper.