Advocates of repealing gun-free zones in Wyoming, an action that would allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry guns in schools and public buildings, faced a setback Wednesday when a Senate committee made the repeal subject to local officials.
An amendment by Senate Education Committee Chairman Hank Coe (R-Cody) substantially narrowed the bill’s intent from what supporters wanted.
“I think it’s terrible,” Thermopolis resident Charles Curley said of the amended bill. “I think the regime on concealed carry needs to be uniform statewide.”
The Senate Education Committee passed House Bill 114-Wyoming repeal gun free zones act as amended on a vote of 4-1.
Passage of the amended bill was vindication for opponents, which include students, school board members, college officials and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow (R).
“This law, when it is a state mandate, looks much different in Snake River, Wyoming, versus Cheyenne, Wyoming,” Balow said.
Students gave emotional testimony during the meeting.
Christina Giarusso, a University of Wyoming student and member of Wyoming Students for Concealed Carry, said she was assaulted and forced into a car. She escaped by opening the door and rolling out of the moving car. She reported the incident to UW police who subsequently misplaced a protection order against the assailant, and therefore didn’t enforce it.
Giarusso said she still sees her attacker on campus. Having a gun would make her feel safer, she said. When she solicits new members for her group, she finds many students who want to be able to carry concealed weapons on campus without breaking the law.
Teddy Schueler said he’s a veteran army sniper and cannot defend himself at the university.
“The last time I was shot, I was wearing something similar to this,” Schueler said as he showed a military-style flack jacket to lawmakers. “I do not wear this to school, and I have nothing to protect myself.”
UW didn’t have any cases of on-campus murder, manslaughter, or robbery from 2011-2013, though it did see one aggravated assault, 27 forcible sex offenses and 52 burglaries in that time. Only one student was arrested during that time for a weapons violation.
Kate Backman, a senior at Cheyenne East High School, spoke against the bill. She said she surveyed fellow students to ask whether they would feel safer if the gun-free zones repeal passed. One hundred two out of 162 respondents, or 62 percent, said they would not feel safer.
“If our students are unsafe in their learning environment, then they cannot learn,” Backman said. “They cannot focus on their work or their extracurricular activities because they are in a constant feeling of fear and danger.”
Ahmed Balogun, president of the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming, said the student senate recently defeated a resolution to endorse concealed carry on campus by a two-thirds vote.
Chariman Coe guided the committee through 90 minutes of public testimony for and against the bill. He then closed public comment and introduced an amended version, “House Bill 114-Gun free zones modifications” that was drafted as a substitute. The amended bill gives school boards, college trustees, and other local officials authority to set policy on concealed carry. Sen. Stephan Pappas (R-Cheyenne) seconded.
“This is a totally inclusive amendment,” Coe said. “One of the things we try to do with this amendment is to recognize the significance of governing bodies at the local level that are elected.”
Coe’s method for heavily amending the bill brought criticism that it changed the nature of it from a statewide policy to one left in the hands of local officials. Rep. Allen Jaggi (R-Lyman) said Coe had essentially replaced his original bill, a charge that Coe denied.
“You have a substitute bill, and you never gave me the courtesy of seeing this to have any input,” Jaggi said. “I don’t even think they are talking about the same deal.”
“We do incorporate the five points you have in your bill,” Coe said to Jaggi. “This was never intended necessarily to be a substitute bill.” He referred to the changes as a committee amendment.
After the meeting adjourned, Rep. Garry Piiparinen (R-Evanston) asked Coe that his name be removed from the bill as a co-sponsor because he disagreed with the new language.
“That’s your prerogative,” Coe said.
Eleven states have repealed gun-free zones on schools and campuses, and 21 states have some degree of local control over allowing concealed carry in gun-free zones, said concealed carry expert and Fox news columnist John Lott after testifying at the hearing.
“When you leave it up to local school districts they are much more hostile to letting people carry,” Lott said.
Wyoming Gun Owners director Anthony Bouchard called Coe’s amendment a “premeditated attack” on the original legislation. “From what we are seeing now, it’s just a gun control bill that needs to die,” Bouchard said.
Senate Education Committee vote on amended HB 114
4 aye, 1 no.
NO: Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton)