If you follow the Wyoming Legislature, you’ve probably seen bills introduced that opponents derisively call “solutions in search of problems.”

A few state solons who pre-filed House Bill 28 more than a month before this year’s budget session have added a new wrinkle. They’ve come up with what I call the “a kneecapping of a solution no one wants to use anyway” bill.

HB28, sponsored by Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-Sundance) and a dozen other lawmakers, is an unnecessary firearms regulation bill and a big chunk of legislative red meat thrown to Wyomingites who are horrified at the thought any guns will ever, ever be taken off the streets, even if voluntarily.

The measure states that “no city, town, political subdivision, state agency or entity or any other governmental entity shall operate a firearm buyback program or participate in the implementation, administration or operation” of such a program.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of any Wyoming firearm buyback programs? Well, neither have I. If there were any, I think the same reactionary voices that want to pass HB28 would have screamed so loud and long they would have easily squashed them.  

Gun buyback programs are nothing new. They date back to at least 1974, when Baltimore police purchased about 13,500 firearms from the citizenry at $50 per weapon. The idea, then called a “gun bounty,” was developed by the city’s police commissioner after one of his officers was gunned down in the line of duty.

Baltimore is still buying weapons that people voluntarily turn in to police, who check to see if they have been stolen or used in commission of a crime before destroying them. The city’s latest buyback was last month, and purchase prices ranged from $25 to $500, depending on the weapon.

Many cities throughout the country have adopted similar programs, often in the wake of mass shootings. Most of the programs offer either cash or gift cards in exchange for weapons. Tens of thousands of weapons are destroyed annually in this manner. It’s a lot, but not in comparison to the estimated 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the U.S.

The National Rifle Association, of course, is loathe to see any guns or rifles taken out of circulation, much less destroyed. It has banded with the far-right American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafts “model” bills like HB28 and circulates them to legislatures throughout the country.

ALEC is infamously responsible for 25 states adopting “stand your ground” laws. Wyoming legislators, after defeating two previous attempts, finally succumbed to the feverish movement and passed its own version of stand your ground in 2018.

That reckless decision led to a tragic miscarriage of justice last year in Casper. Jason John killed a rival in a love triangle, Wesley Willow, during an altercation with the unarmed man. John used an AR-15 to shoot Willow twice in the chest, six times in the back and once in the back of his head as he lay prone, face down, inside John’s trailer. 

A charge of first-degree murder filed by Natrona County prosecutors was dismissed by a state district court judge after John’s attorney raised the stand your ground law as his defense. Without being judged by a jury of his peers, the killer walked free in a case that has been appealed by the state to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

That’s what can happen when Wyoming lawmakers employ cookie-cutter bills written by groups like ALEC and the NRA to appease political extremists.

So far Wyoming has resisted another ALEC bill that would allow gun owners with concealed carry permits to possess weapons on the University of Wyoming campus and the state’s community colleges. The bill has drawn widespread opposition from students, faculty and staff every time it’s been introduced. Even so, I suspect legislators concerned more about their NRA rating than what the public wants will continue to press the issue.

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It’s difficult to predict what kind of reaction the proposed ban on firearm buyback programs in Wyoming will receive this election year. The NRA has beat a steady drum against such programs for many years, claiming they are ineffective in reducing violent crime.

There is a lack of serious research about the impact of gun buyback programs on crime in large and small American cities, and studies that have been conducted are largely inconclusive.

What seems obvious, however, is that such programs offer a valid alternative to any gun owner who no longer wants to possess a weapon — out of fear perhaps that it could endanger a child or disturbed family member, or be stolen and used in another crime.

Wyoming has the second highest suicide rate in the nation, and nearly two-thirds of these fatalities are committed using handguns. If a gun buyback program could limit a suicidal person’s easy access to a weapon, why would the state ban the option? 

Other nations have used mandatory firearm buybacks following mass shootings, most notably Australia. It was in that country in 1996 where a man with a semi-automatic rifle killed 35 people and injured 18 in an incident known today as the Port Arthur Massacre. The country soon banned certain weapons, buying 640,000 of the prohibited firearms from the public, which also voluntarily turned in about 60,000 other weapons for free. 

It’s difficult to argue with the results: Australia has not experienced any mass shootings since, and homicide rates have fallen by about 20%. 

Perhaps the legislators backing HB28 are worried that if politicians like former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas ever assume power, the feds will launch mandatory buybacks of outlawed firearms.

This bogeyman has been part of the NRA’s folklore for decades: Candidate (fill-in-the-blank) is coming to take your guns! 

As the hysteria over former President Barack Obama’s rumored anti-gun policies proves, it’s all done in the name of protecting gun manufacturers.

The only two new gun laws Obama signed in eight years actually expanded existing rights, making it legal to possess firearms in national parks and to carry guns in baggage on Amtrak. But the bogus fear tactics resulted in record gun and ammunition sales.

The idea of mandatory firearm buybacks in Wyoming is another toothless scare. In a red state where gun ownership is considered sacrosanct, they simply won’t be considered here.

I do think buyback programs can make communities safer. But my chief argument against HB28 is this: If a city, county, law enforcement agency or any other governmental entity wants to conduct a voluntary firearms buyback program -— and permanently take weapons their owners no longer wanted off the street — why should our nanny state step in and stop them?

What if a community experienced a rash of gun-related violent crimes, and the police chief and city council decide their streets could potentially be safer if they offered to buy certain weapons at a fair price? Wouldn’t that be an excellent example of local control, which most state lawmakers say they cherish?

Apparently, the “big brother” mentality that’s at the heart of HB28 believes that only the state, NRA and ALEC — not local governments —  know what’s best when it comes to guns and public safety in Wyoming. 

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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8 Comments

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    1. Nobody wants to disarm you, but I do want to know if you are well regulated enough to serve in my militia? I have my doubts about GOPers in Wyoming as they think the Cheney’s and Trumps are good and Democrats are bad.

      This Democrat will fight to keep my guns not because I fear the government but because I fear people whom are obviously susceptible to being in a mindless cult, you know like the German people were in the 1930s.

  1. I concede to Mr. Wilten that local control can have its pitfalls. The South did violate basic human rights with its Jim Crow laws.

    But voluntary buyback programs don’t represent such a pitfall.

    Also, apologies for my “rich buddies” line. There was no need for a snarky comment.

  2. Voluntary gun buyback already exist its called a pawn /gun shop ..Wyoming does not need to get into buying back guns . It would be too easy for the State to get into “political posturing ” with a gun by back

  3. Too many Wyoming legislators support local control only when it suits them. More than one senator quickly trashed local control when Teton County’s land use plan potentially limited the plans of one of their rich supporters.

    The public’s interest was forgotten.

    1. Dan Neal says

      “Too many Wyoming legislators support local control only when it suits them. More than one senator quickly trashed local control when Teton County’s land use plan potentially limited the plans of one of their rich supporters.

      The public’s interest was forgotten.”

      Dan, your definition of “public’s interest” is just another special interest – yours. And your comment is unrelated to the gun issue. Sometimes local control is not the answer.

      The South complained about the feds taking away local control when it came to race relations. Local police have been know to abuse their authority and need federal or state oversight. Did you see the recent Wyofile headline: ‘Cops investigating cops’: Tension builds over officer-involved shootings.”

      One could easily say that Teton County’s land use policies favor the wealthy over everyone else. If local control were actually the cherry bomb of good governance (it’s not), then Teton County wouldn’t have all the problems it has now.

      Would you be happy if the Feds mandated that states or municipalities have buy-back programs? There goes local control in favor of a one-sized-fits-all regulation from the feds. Local, State, and Federal governments often take away individual control over an individual’s life. Do you favor that? Obamacare took away individual control over medical care. You favor Obamacare? Local control can be more abusive than state or federal control.

      Personally, I can’t name one city in America that is safer because of their gun buy-back program. Baltimore? Los Angeles? Nope. Perhaps Drake really wants to remove almost all guns from individual ownership like some nations.

      “If a gun buyback program could limit a suicidal person’s easy access to a weapon, why would the state ban the option? ”

      NPR just reported that higher wages also limit suicides. Free medical care would probably do the same. I will bet that many people who commit suicide have had enough of some form of suffering that they are eager to end. Suicide may save them from further suffering. It is unlikely that local control can stop their suffering. Hasn’t happened in Teton County

      1. Interesting take on things but I think we have to step back and decide whether Counties and Cities can be “Laboratories of Democracy” like the States are supposed to be under the US Constitution? It has always been my belief that we should have Federal Laws for issues that impact all citizens but those laws cannot violate a person’s rights, like Jim Crow or pollution. If one State or in the case of a State, counties and cities, come up with an idea that serves that community then why should a State try to pre-empt them? I get that Conservative ideas have failed in the Socialist State of Wyoming, but instead of considering other maybe more progressive and inclusive ideas the Conservatives attempt to block a boogey man no one is proposing? The Republicans are also trying to pre-empt the idea of affordable housing that maybe tried in some areas of Wyoming as proposed in HB 22? So in the past few years the legislature will force an area to relax its zoning for a Christian organization to build a school to teach christian values, but will restrict those values in the form of affordable housing from being implemented? Hypocrisy is the only word that defines christians and conservatives in these dubious ventures.

        Now the US Constitution provided us a framework to pass laws for the General Welfare and the Common Defense in order to achieve domestic tranquility. I would argue that certain programs that start out locally, like providing K-12 education became ubiquitous in America because other communities would lose citizens if it were not provided, so under the General Welfare clause we decided to make this a nationwide thing instead of a local thing.

        “Obamacare took away individual control over medical care.” And insurance or Medicare doesn’t? So the country is an a phase where we have been deciding whether, like education, healthcare should be a right of all citizens (General Welfare) but limited in someway like K-12 limits the taxpayers commitment to education? Believe me I get the fear of socialized medicine run by politicians that cannot say no as look no further than Medicare as it is being abused by the people that have it, but they will not admit it. Medicare was never designed or financed to house the elderly in homes or fix bags under the eyes for supposed sight issues, but here we are and the voting elderly will not have it taken away. At this point, for the General Welfare and Domestic tranquility the US/State governments have a role in healthcare and I have ideas, but we will save that for another time.

        So lets do the Roe thing, should that be State, Federal or mind your own business because of the 4th Amendment and its my body not yours that has to bear the burden of this decision? I think you know what my answer will be as the State nor the Feds have any business regulating a person’s body and what they do with it, unless that person’s body and mind are not “well regulated” to the point they become a threat to society.

        That leads us to the gun thing as only “well regulated” persons should have the right to keep and bear arms. To me this seems easy as the Founders wanted local militias to be self armed, but they also knew they could not trust drunks or the mentally incapable to properly use weapons. In addition they used Arms for a reason, as they also knew that each Arm requires different regulations, as a rifle bearer is different than a cannon company. The Military is the best example of the 2a in action where you have to meet a certain level of competence to have a rifle and then that regulation increases with each succeeding more powerful Armament you are entrusted with operating.

        So lets summarize, if you are advocating for a buy back program in your town and you town votes for it, the State should butt out? If you are advocating for taking guns away from well-regulated people then you are obviously violating the Constitution. If you are advocating that keeping an Arm shall not be infringed because the well regulated part of the clause does not count, you are a lazy citizen that is obviously not well regulated enough to have an Arm. Just like Healthcare, I have ideas on what define a well-regulated person in today’s society but that discussion requires the entire electorate to get on board and not just Anton Scalia, which said defining the well regulated fits under the 2a in the Heller Decision.

  4. My wife and I love, no, rely, on your insightful columns. We are so pleased that a reporter with your insight, bold enough to take on the ingrained opinions of Wyoming conservatives, has a forum to express your views on important issues. We have long been concerned about the impact ALEC is having across the US, and especially in Wyoming. It’s hard for us to believe that elected representatives use such an organization to push through their strongly conservative, and often hurtful, bills. Wyoming legislators and citizens need to be more progressive in their thinking and voting to enable the state to exist and prosper in the 21st century. Thank you Kerry. Our donation to WyoFile will soon follow.
    Bob and Pat McDowell, Buffalo, WY