Guns are an important part of Wyoming’s culture.
In a rural state, they are useful tools for many, especially in agricultural communities or in places where people live far from law enforcement. They are also an essential component in hunting, one of our state’s biggest sports and drivers of tourism.
But more than that, they are linked to the rugged independence that so many Wyomingites treasure. The represent the desire to take care of oneself, to be responsible for one’s own safety and well-being. It’s no surprise that Wyoming ranks near the top of the nation in gun ownership and guns per capita.
It also comes as no surprise that, in a libertarian-leaning state like ours, many residents are skeptical of gun restrictions. Consider that in the wake of a string of high-profile mass shootings, some Wyoming school districts chose to enact rules to allow certain educators to possess guns on campus, rather than following other states in keeping them away from schools. In one instance, for a school north of Cody, the primary concern in arming the teacher was protection from grizzly bears. This makes sense.
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At the same time, mass shootings have continued to plague our country, begging the question: What can or should be done? Last month, lawmakers considered a bill similar to one signed by President Trump last year, designed to keep guns away from people with certain severe mental illnesses. Specifically, it would have required state authorities to submit certain mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
A legislative committee defeated the bill by a 9-5 vote. Some opponents reasoned the bill represented a slippery slope toward greater government intrusion on gun rights, or even the seizure of firearms. Others worried the bill unfairly stigmatizes people who simply get counseling as mentally ill.
We disagree with these arguments. The bill was not overreaching, nor did it unfairly demonize a certain group of people. Rather, it sought, with minimal impact on the vast majority of law-abiding gun owners, to simply keep guns away from people whose severe mental illnesses make them potentially too dangerous to possess firearms. This is hardly a radical idea. There are already laws on the books, for example, to keep guns away from people who have committed certain serious crimes. Few would argue this is a bad idea, or an unconstitutional one. Simply tightening up the existing reporting system would have likely made us a little safer without keeping guns away from anyone who has the right to possess them.
Wyoming has been fortunate in that it has avoided the mass shootings that have occurred in so many other places. But that luck won’t likely hold forever. We need our leaders to be taking concrete steps to reduce the likelihood of a mass shooting rather than voting each and every one of them down.
So we can’t help but ask to the people who opposed this legislation, what is your solution to the plague of mass shootings that not only maim and kill, but also force us to look over our shoulders in our schools, our churches, movie theaters and nearly every other public place? What should the next steps be? We now inhabit a world where children in elementary school are trained on how best to avoid being shot in their classrooms. This wasn’t always the case. Are we content to let this continue? Doing nothing has certainly not worked well. If not a first step like last month’s draft legislation, then what do you propose be done? We are all ears.