On guns, Wyoming has an easy choice.
Nixing gun-free zones at government meetings, the Legislature, schools and colleges, as a bill that recently passed the state House would do, is downright dangerous. Broadly repealing gun-free zones would clear the way for more violence and extra costs and could even have a chilling effect on campuses.
Better is a substitute proposal, which cleared the second of two votes in the Senate on Tuesday and is expected to undergo its third reading Wednesday. It would leave it up to local officials to decide whether guns are allowed in those areas and then take the steps needed to enforce those rules. The original bill was three pages; the amended version goes on for 14. Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, added one more reasonable amendment Tuesday that would allow concealed-carry permit holders to keep their firearms in their vehicles, even in gun-free zones.
The measure the House passed was reckless and shortsighted. It was reckless, because we simply don’t accept that more guns leads to more safety. We find it hard to believe that an attacker could be stopped only by armed members of the public. We find it hard to believe that those armed members of the public could be counted upon to shoot accurately and in a way that didn’t immediately escalate an already tense situation.
It was shortsighted, because it didn’t address all the issues. For one thing, the state has no financial stake here. The House bill would have handed down a costly mandate without solutions. If gun-free zones were widely repealed, districts and other institutions would have been responsible for paying higher insurance costs, if obtaining insurance were possible at all. They would have been on the hook for updating signage reflecting the new policy.
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Sure, in a small district where everyone knows one another, some people might be comfortable with school visitors carrying firearms. In a larger district, where people encounter strangers every day, that would be a tougher sell. Wyoming, with its commitment to local control, and its stark contrasts between its cities and rural areas, should understand this better than most.
Legislators should also listen to education advocates such as state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, who in her testimony implored them to leave flexibility for local control in the bill. The Legislature should be turning to the education community to learn what works best on school grounds.
Also worth noting are the words of Edward Janak, the Wyoming Faculty Senate president, who warned that academic freedom might suffer if such rules were enacted. Students, faculty and researchers wouldn’t know who on campus had a weapon, and they might restrict their comments because of it. That would mean educational careers have suffered, and that’s not an outcome we can stand for.
Of course, backers of the original bill to repeal the zones altogether suspect that the stark differences between the measures will be too difficult to reconcile. Regardless, our support is behind the measure that leaves gun policy in local officials’ hands, and that’s the amended Senate bill. Wyoming legislators must recognize that safety is a top priority and act accordingly.