Gun-free zone repeal dealt blow in Senate

Kost casts key vote against proposal

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A bill to repeal gun-free zones created by schools and local governments was killed by a state Senate committee on Wednesday, though an identical measure remains pending in the House.

Senate File 75 and House Bill 183 would generally allow people to carry concealed weapons at schools, colleges, government meetings and athletic events — places where firearms are currently prohibited. People would still be barred from carrying guns in law enforcement facilities, courtrooms, bars and any private property where firearms are prohibited.

Senate File 75 failed on a 2-3 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, with Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, joining with Sens. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, and Liisa Anselmi-Dalton, D-Rock Springs, in opposition to the measure. Sens. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, and Brian Boner, R-Douglas, supported the bill.

Kost said in a later Facebook post that he strongly feels that decisions about where to allow firearms should continue to be made at the local level.

“Even though the vote would indicate the decision favored my thoughts I did not feel like I ‘won’ anything,” the freshman lawmaker added, “because there are those who have very strong feelings supporting the bill and there are those who have very strong feelings against the bill. I knew going into this meeting that no matter which way I went there would be people upset with my decision but the decision I made was for the local control and not for the state to mandate.”

Some local conservatives reacted with dismay.

Dona Becker of Powell, a precinct committeewoman within the Park County Republican Party, said Kost took an oath to defend the Constitution, not local control.

“The [Second] Amendment is still the preeminent law of the land and you swore before God to uphold it, which you did not do,” Becker wrote in response to Kost’s post. “What good is an oath if our elected politicians don’t abide by it? What good is an election when an elected official doesn’t follow their party platform?”

Kost responded that the Second Amendment is not unlimited. He pointed to a 2008 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court — written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia — that tacitly affirmed the government’s ability to ban firearms in sensitive places like schools and government buildings.

The Big Horn Basin Tea Party had urged its members to support the bill, saying local control of a constitutional right is a “very dangerous path to follow.” Following the vote, the group issued an email blast suggesting Kost wasn’t a true Republican.

“Shame on Senator Kost (r) with the little r after his name,” wrote Vince Vanata, the co-director of the tea party group. Vanata, of Cody, is also the vice chairman of the Park County Republican Party.

Sen. Anthony Bouchard — a Cheyenne Republican who led the Wyoming Gun Owners group before becoming a lawmaker — again sponsored this year’s attempt at repealing gun-free zones across the state.

Bouchard argued SF 75 would eliminate the patchwork system of laws across the state that create confusion about when and where someone can legally carry a weapon. By allowing concealed carry essentially across the board, Wyomingites would be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights without infringement.

He said people would argue that local control kept the state from interfering. But the Legislature has the right to make an overarching decision on eliminating gun-free zones.

“Law-abiding citizens aren’t the problem. Criminals were the ones always coming into these places like gun-free zones,” Bouchard said.

But the opposition disagreed with Bouchard’s assertion that the bill  would provide safety for schools and local governments. Numerous gun-control advocates and representatives from the state’s teachers union, community colleges and school boards came out against the bill.

Several teachers spoke about the fear they would have dealing with an angry parent or student if there wasn’t a rule preventing guns from being brought onto campus.

Laramie County Community College President Joe Schaffer of Cheyenne said Bouchard made a good point about the complication of a patchwork system. But that wasn’t enough of an argument to justify removing the power of a local entity to make decisions about how best to protect itself.

Instead, Schaffer said, it was imperative for LCCC and other schools to educate people about the firearms restrictions they put in place.

“We believe that conversations about constitutional limitations should really be determined by the government closest to the people,” Schaffer said. “And, in our case, that’s the board of trustees.”

He said if gun-free zones were repealed, it would create numerous issues and uncertainty for LCCC. That would range from whether a student could bring a gun into a chemistry lab to how to address complaints about threats if the student in question was carrying a gun, or if the college would have to spend substantially more for insurance if guns were allowed on campus.

Janine Teske, a school board member from Teton County School District 1 in Jackson, said local governments need the ability to work within their community to decide what’s best for them. She also called into question the rigor of the concealed carry permit process and the danger of having untrained people like herself carrying firearms around children.

“I do not know how to shoot a gun. I have a concealed carry permit. That threshold is really, really low,” Teske said. “I would encourage this is not the right measure to put in place.”

While SF 75 would generally allow Wyoming citizens to bring concealed guns into schools, it says school district leaders could continue to restrict employees’ ability to carry firearms. Over the past couple of years, districts across Wyoming have been debating whether to arm trained staff members as another means to protect children. The Cody district, for example, has adopted a policy allowing certain personnel to carry a concealed firearm if they meet various requirements.

After SF 75 failed last week, Bouchard said the arguments against it and other attempts to repeal gun-free zones always predict terrible ramifications.

“It’s all the same arguments every time we have any kind of gun bill,” Bouchard said. “The sky was going to fall, danger’s happening. It’s all the same argument, and it’s emotional. They’re not looking at the reality.”

Supporters of SF 75 made a Friday attempt to revive the bill, by recalling it from the Judiciary Committee, but that effort failed on an 8-20 vote. Bill supporters had previously tried to have the bill moved from the Judiciary Committee to the Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee, but that effort also failed on a 14-16 vote back on Jan. 14.

While SF 75 appears dead in the Senate, an identical effort to repeal gun-free zones — HB 183 — has been filed in the House and is awaiting assignment to a committee. Among the 60 representatives in the House, 23 members are listed as sponsors — including Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell.

(The portion of this story taken from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle came via the Wyoming News Exchange.)

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