Here’s an interesting political question: When you’ve got Wyoming’s powerful gun lobby lined up on one side, and all of the state’s educational interests on the other, who wins?

That scenario played out in the Senate Education Committee last week, with surprising results. Especially for the gun lobby.

It saw its bill, the Wyoming Repeal Gun-Free Zones Act, passed by the panel, 3-2. Only what came out of the committee process wasn’t the gun lobby’s bill at all, but a measure designed to help keep guns out of schools and other public places if officials don’t want them.

After hearing highly dubious testimony from supporters of House Bill 114 that schools, campuses and other public places will actually be safer with a large percentage of the population packing heat, legislators overwhelmingly said they want local officials to have the power to decide if they’ll let that happen. Even in a pro-gun state like Wyoming, gun advocates don’t always win.

Thank you, Senate Education Committee. You’ve restored at least some of my faith in the political process during a session when it’s been at low ebb, thanks to right-wing Republicans. Their success in killing an anti-discrimination bill to protect gays and lesbians by resorting to a pack of lies and scare tactics was beyond reprehensible.

Most of the same people behind that effort are backing HB 114, and they seemed pretty confident at the outset of the hearing. Except for one thing: There were rumblings about a substitute bill. Many were passing each other copies of the purported changes, but it only contained every other page, so precisely what the other side was up to wasn’t clear.

At the start of the hearing, several asked about the substitute bill, and were told there wasn’t one. Technically, that was correct, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

While there were many legislators ready to testify, all but a couple decided to put their faith in the big gun, the “expert witness” they lined up to testify. They fully expected John Lott, a pro-gun economist and political commentator, to dazzle the committee and the audience with statistics and anecdotal evidence to reach the conclusion that gun-free zones make schools less safe. Newsweek didn’t dub Lott “The Gun Crowd’s Guru” for nothing.

For a different view of the issue, please see this Washington Post article.

Lott, using statistics from the 11 states that allow permit holders to carry concealed weapons at schools and universities without restrictions, presented his argument that people who commit mass shootings do so in gun-free zones where the public is unarmed. He pointed out Utah hasn’t been the site of any mass shootings or other types of gun violence that had been predicted by opponents. I agree we’re all thankful for that.

Proponents of getting rid of Wyoming’s gun-free zones wrapped up their half of the testimony with the same gun rights activists who spoke at the House Judiciary Committee a few weeks earlier. Collectively they painted a picture of a peaceful place where everyone could feel at ease because the concealed carry crowd would be out doing its job: striking fear into the hearts of anyone thinking of shooting up a school, a theater or a mall.

They finished and sat back waiting to hear what the anti-gun contingent would say. Perhaps the most optimistic among them expected the other side to fold its tent, admit they were wrong and gratefully welcome them to their schools.

Instead, foes of HB 114 fired back, using some powerful ammunition: logic, facts and common sense. Virtually every educational organization in the state lined up to testify that the current laws prohibiting guns at schools, colleges, government buildings, athletic events and meetings of governmental entities are working, so the proposed “fix” isn’t necessary.

Representatives of K-12 and college students, faculty, administrators, staff and board members stood up and said a crowd of people carrying concealed guns to protect them isn’t welcome, despite people’s best intentions. Abandoning the security that comes with gun-free zones would make everyone — especially students — more afraid, and that would make it much more difficult for them to learn.

School insurance rates, several officials stressed, would go through the roof, if insurance was obtainable at all if HB 114 became law.

Moreover, the education coalition repeatedly said this isn’t an issue where state government should mandate anything; local control should prevail. If the elected representatives on school boards, college trustees, city council and county commission members want people to carry guns, they should be able to make that choice themselves.

That’s an argument that’s difficult for conservatives, even those on the extreme right, to counter, because it’s their own argument. The conservative mantra has always been local control is best, so it’s highly hypocritical for state lawmakers to do an about face and effectively say “people elected us, and what we say counts more than officials in your own communities.”

After both sides had their say, the committee went to work. Chairman Hank Coe (R-Cody) indicated the first order of business was consideration of a 14-page committee amendment to the three-page House bill.

The amendment gave control of whether to allow concealed carry of guns on now-prohibited public property to local authorities, whose decisions would not be subject to any appeal. Even if the respective board, council or commission approved such a provision, anyone carrying a concealed weapon would have to notify authorities of their presence before gaining entry to school grounds, college campuses or governmental meetings. That would include the Legislative Management Council, which oversees legislative policies and regulations.

The main sponsor of HB 114, Rep. Allen Jaggi (R-Lyman) was indignant, and tried to chastise Coe for blindsiding him with a substitute bill.

Not so, Coe explained, it was offered as a committee amendment, which is the correct procedure. Once the amendment is adopted — as this one was, 3-2, with Coe voting in its favor — it is what the committee is left to consider, he said, and it’s what the panel will submit to the entire Senate when the bill is debated.

Jaggi and his supporters can scream their heads off — and they did, publicly and privately, because they now say it’s a gun-control bill — but they can’t change the fact the Senate committee did everything within the rules. Jaggi said Coe should have given him the courtesy of showing him the proposed changes before they were introduced, but it wasn’t required, and since the chairman was trying to substantially alter the bill to reflect what it’s opponents wanted included, it was an unrealistic expectation.

Well played, Sen. Coe.

The outcome of this political gamesmanship doesn’t sit well with Anthony Bouchard, president of Wyoming Gun Owners (WyGO), who is using his group’s Facebook page to accuse three “sneaky Republicans” on the Senate Education Committee of stomping on the rules to promote its anti-gun agenda — Coe, Sen. Jim Anderson (R-Glenrock) and Sen. Stephan Pappas (R-Cheyenne).

Bill Tallen (front row, left) Anthony Bouchard, and Kerry Drake were in attendance when Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow addressed a legislative committee last week. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile)

 

A failed legislative candidate in 2014, Bouchard took pictures of many of the people who testified against HB 114 and immediately posted them on the website to show his fans who is to blame for the bill he’s labeled a “bad counterfeit.”

There was a time when I was featured on WyGO’s Facebook page too, along with Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Wyoming Tribune-Eagle Editor Reed Eckhardt, both of whom I consider great company. But all this recent activity means that to see my column on Bouchard’s Facebook page you now have to scroll down a long way.

Two things, Mr. Bouchard: Although your post singles out WyoFile, the Knight Foundation and me for our alleged “anti-gun agenda,” I’m the one you really should be upset with, because as a non-staff columnist what I write is my own opinion. And why couldn’t you have taken a new picture of my ugly mug? I was sitting right next to you at the SEC hearing. If you want to let people know who you’re targeting, let’s keep them up to date.

Thanks, though, for sharing the column. I can always use more readers.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

Correction: This column was corrected on 3/5/15. An earlier version incorrectly said Lott emphasized Utah’s experience after passing a law similar to Wyoming’s HB 114. — Ed

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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  1. Well, Wyoming politics have finally descended to the level of California politics. The “gut and amend” tactic is common practice in the Left Coast state. But it is practiced more artfully there, where it is usually carried out in the last hours of the legislative year – often during those mysterious periods where the clock is stopped just short of midnight of the last day of the session so the cockroaches can carry out their schemes under cover of darkness. Wyoming legislators – you need to up your game!

    Chris Smith

    Dayton

  2. It’s a moot point, now that the Senate has finally been induced to vote down Hank Coe’s enormously destructive substitute version of HB 114 – exactly the result he and his loyal supporters in the education lobby wanted. But of course the issue will return in future, and perhaps between now and then we can continue the laborious process of educating the clueless among us about just what it is that is being proposed, and why.

    HB 114 in its original form was about concealed carry by Wyoming permit holders, only. So unless Scott Crist has over-21 students who have passed background checks, documented training, and possess concealed carry permits, he needn’t worry about them being armed in his classroom. No, wait, sorry, he has to worry right now about weapons brought in illicitly by people like the perpetrators of all mass shootings, and since law-abiding people respect “gun free zones,” on that day he will be helpless. The last thing he should worry about is permit holders – they are the most law-abiding subset of American society, even the twenty-somethings among them. And some day, one of them might be around to protect his helpless backside.

    Only 5% of Wyoming’s population has concealed carry permits, so all the dire imaginings of schools and campuses overflowing with guns are histrionic exaggerations, as are the implication that anyone would be obliged to carry. Superintendent Ballew [Jillian Balow] in last week’s hearing harked back to her classroom teacher days, saying she wouldn’t be comfortable carrying a weapon in school; fine, then don’t!

    All the teachers (past, present, and future) who are unwilling to consider being armed for the protection of their students earn my contempt, but of course that’s their choice, just as my opinion is mine. If the next Columbine, Sandy Hook, Casper, Sheridan, or Cokeville (because it’s happened already in Wyoming) occurs in their school, I wonder what their last thoughts will be as they helplessly await their own death and that of the children in their care. It’s a colossal failure of both imagination and responsibility, not to consider that such a day might come, or to prefer to be a helpless victim if it does.

    I’ve never come close to drowning in our society “awash with guns,” perhaps because most of them are harmlessly stored or used for legitimate and non-threatening purposes. A minority are carried responsibly by police and armed citizens, and a very small minority are used in violent crime by sociopaths and psychopaths, who will never have much trouble obtaining them, as you can see everywhere that governments restrict legal firearms ownership. Criminal use of firearms in the UK has grown steadily since their crackdown on private firearms ownership in the last two decades.

    Lives are saved, and crime deterred or stopped, every day in America by privately owned firearms, despite all the unreasoning fears we’ve heard so much of recently in the HB 114 debate. The most dangerous places are the “gun free zones” where no one but the lawless aggressor is armed; that is one simple fact that people need to admit and address.

    Bill Tallen

  3. Regarding Mr. Schultz’s comment above. There is something very 1950’s about people wishing to ‘filter out’ educators who disagree about the wisdom of guns in schools. Perhaps we should be grateful that he is not suggesting it be mandatory for teachers carry guns. How libertarian of him!

    Good grief, Charlie Brown.

    Donal O’Toole
    Wyoming

  4. I say kill the bill HB114 !!! The Bill HB114 has had the hick kicked out of it, let this mongrill Die, it is nothing like its oridginal intent!!!!

    Larry Stroh

  5. We should be more concerned by a MUCH more dangerous element in our classrooms than “legal” guns carried by “trained and qualified concealed carry permitted” persons…. and that is teachers and their supporters (like Crist and O’Toole) and school administrators that are totally devoid of the attributes of “REASON, COMMON SENSE, LOGIC and BASIC PHYSICS”. There should NEVER be a restriction of concealed carry guns, by legally qualified and permitted persons, in any public establishment (ESPECIALLY schools) where there is ALSO no metal detectors, at all entrances of such establishments, that would detect/prevent CRIMINALS from concealed carrying in those establishments.

    If we want to do something for the good of our educational system, lets start filtering out so-called educators and administrators that lack the above mentioned basic attributes. I am not suggesting that it should be mandatory for teachers/administrators to legally carry in schools, only that it be PERMITTED by “legally permitted persons (who are qualified by definition of ‘legally permitted’)”. Many thanks to guys like Mr. Bouchard and his supporters who try to disseminate the voice of REASON, COMMON SENSE, LOGIC.

    God bless and help us all.

    Glen Schultz
    Wapiti, WY

  6. Perhaps it should be called the NRA Conundrum: the answer to a society awash in guns is – more guns. Convenient to the gun manufacturers, and to shills like Mr. Bouchard.

    Seriously, in response to Mr. Wills, Coe delivered a Republican answer to a Republican question: leave the decision to the local schools and to trustees about whether employees need to be armed to come to work. I’d prefer there some spaces in American life free of guns and the sometimes unwell people whose identity seems to rely on carrying them. But we can live with the Coe amendment, and duke it out on the local level. The concept, which may be new to Mr. Wills, is called local democracy. It’s not just a concept, you know

    As an aside to the statement that ‘John Lott [is] the most respected academic in the field of studying the effects of gun ownership’ readers of WyoFile might look at:

    http://www.armedwithreason.com/shooting-down-the-gun-lobbys-favorite-academic-a-lott-of-lies/

    Good job, Kerry, as always. Thank you.

    Donal O’Toole

  7. Scott, I hate to bust your bubble, but chances are there have been weapons in your class room. In Wyoming fathers, brothers, boyfriends and husbands teach their daughters and wives to not be victims. They teach them how to shoot, how to use mace and which parts of the male anatomy are most susceptible to a swift defensive kick. I guarantee the day after that kid shot his Father with a bow in Casper there were hundreds of weapons carried on campus’ all around this state. When I was at UW, while I didn’t carry (well accept for once or twice by accident), I know a couple people who carried everywhere they went, I really doubt they were the only ones (the beauty of concealed carry is that the weapon is….concealed…). Personally I was and am OK with it, better to be judged by 12 then carried by 6 as they say.

    Craig Casey

  8. Don, I am interested in your comments and would love the opportunity to sit and chat with you should we ever find ourselves in the same place. To be forthright, I am also in the anti-gun crowd…actually…I don’t like people. I am fine with guns, its the people holding them I don’t trust. I think in terms of local control of issues there are some things that the school boards should be talking about…this may be one of them. As an educator myself I really hope my trustees come down on the side of “no”, as I believe having students with guns in class will disrupt the open and free place of ideological exchange I work so hard to create for my students. We discuss some really heated issues in my class and I would hate to think that individuals wouldn’t feel free to express their opinions because they feared the student with the gun. As someone in the class room, you would think it is my right to direct the room as I see fit wouldn’t you?

    There is the argument of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”…if this is the case, guns cant stop people, only people can.

    Scott Crist

  9. More misrepresentations and outright lies from anti-gunner Drake. Examples:

    “After hearing highly dubious testimony from supporters of House Bill 114 that schools, campuses and other public places will actually be safer with a large percentage of the population packing heat”. John Lott, the most respected academic in the field of studying the effects of gun ownership, was one of several supporters of the original bill that gave convincing testimony, not “dubious testimony”. Labeling those comments “dubious” is an outright lie. Drake dismisses the real life experience of Utah out of hand, without any facts or argument at all. Is that how collectivists believe they win debates? By declaring themselves to be correct? Then declaring “we win”? Wow!

    “foes of HB 114 fired back, using some powerful ammunition: logic, facts and common sense.” Another lie. A most common appeal of the anti-gunners was “it just doesn’t seem right” (Ms. Balow). Or “it’s too scary”. The anti-gunners comments were essentially fact-free.

    “Abandoning the security that comes with gun-free zones”. Security like at Sandy Hook, Columbine and others? Hah! “Security in gun-free zones” is an oxymoron.

    “Well played, Sen. Coe.” Drake crowing about Coe’s secrecy is typical of collectivists. When their agenda is secret, it’s just peachy. When those who love liberty work secretly, collectivists squeal like stuck pigs. To wait until after public testimony to offer a replacement bill is antithetical to open and honest consideration in a representative body in our country.

    The game isn’t over yet. This bill is a replay of SF-104 — an out of touch legislative leadership that doesn’t understand the anger that legislators will endure between now and the next election if the gun control bill now before the Senate becomes law. Coe and his cohorts had better hope that this new bill, which even had to be renamed because the changes are so dramatic, never becomes law.

    ***

    And one more thing – if the HB-114, as “amended” (actually “gutted”), does become law, then the gun carry debate will become agenda item number one in every single school board meeting across the state. Is that what school administrators and school board members really want? They too had better hope that the “amended” bill never becomes law.

    Don Wills