As I write this, I am aware of the pistol I often carry in my pickup, the 10-gauge shotgun leaning against the wall in my bedroom and my 15 or so hunting rifles, shotguns, black powder replicas and revolvers in the gun room.

I was born and raised in Newcastle with guns in my hand as soon as I showed the responsibility and judgment to handle them. My grandmother, who homesteaded in Crook County in 1910, and my father, a Wyoming attorney for over 40 years, taught me about the use of firearms. They taught me that a bullet fired from a gun is absolutely irreversible.

Because of this, my grandmother taught that it is the absolute responsibility of someone using or carrying a gun to care for the safety, concerns and sensitivities of those around him. This is just an application of the golden rule. Lest you think Grandma Fern was just some touchy-feely sentimentalist, she taught country schools in her 60s, living alone in the mountains outside Douglas. There, with her always, was her ancient .22 rifle and she was absolutely an expert in its use.

My father served in the Army and in courtrooms when life was literally on the line. Neither of these mentors of mine would have dreamed of carrying a firearm to a courtroom or to get a vehicle license or to a meeting of the city council, the county commissioners or the planning board.

For my grandmother, it would have simply been unforgivably bad manners, but for my father it would have been a betrayal of deep respect for the processes of a democratic republic. You see, my father didn’t see the law as he wished it was. He saw it as it really was and as it must be. This is what I’d like to bring to the debate about guns in government buildings.

First, contrary to what has been stated over and over by gun rights advocates, the state of Wyoming did not completely forbid any gun regulation but theirs. Quite the contrary, the statute on this actually begins with a very important exception which recognizes that cities have important concerns when it comes to guns. The statute says:

“Except as authorized by W.S. 15-1-103(a)(xviii), no city, town, county, political subdivision or any other entity shall authorize, regulate or prohibit the … ownership … or ammunition.”

Often in the law, the exception defines the rule so here is what cities are legally authorized by that exception to do:

“Regulate, prevent or suppress riots, disturbances, disorderly assemblies or parades or any other conduct which disturbs or jeopardizes the public health, safety, peace or morality in any public or private place.”

The Legislature has without question left cities with a very broad power to legislate with regard to firearms and the inherent danger to safety, health and public peace which they present. It is important to note that this power reserved to the cities is not just remedial but preventative.

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The city can act to “prevent” disturbance. The city can “regulate” conduct which “jeopardizes” “safety” or “peace.” “Peace” here is meant as the legal “peace,” that is “a state of public tranquility.” It is broad enough to encompass the operation of the city government in a safe and civil fashion.

In an important and welcome recent U.S. Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, the court found that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is an individual right (that is, not tied to being part of a militia). This is a very important, and to my mind, correct decision. But, in this very decision, the Supreme Court also said:

“… nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”

In the case of McDonald v. City of Chicago, the court declared the right to keep and bear arms “fundamental,” and applied it to all the states of the union. I think that a positive step was made for protection of the right. But again, that’s not the whole story on the issue before residents in Gillette and other Wyoming towns.

The Supreme Court said in the McDonald decision that even this fundamental right is not: “… a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever, in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

When, as recently occurred in Newcastle, openly armed groups appear at city council meetings to argue the dog ordinance (really) or at county commission meetings to oppose land-use planning, what is the purpose of carrying the firearm?

They are packing to intimidate elected officials into seeing things their way and to keep opposing voices from speaking out. Even if that’s not the subjective reason, it is the clear effect.

In the course of my 30-year legal career, I have been in courtrooms where, had firearms been present among the litigants, they would certainly have been used. There have been council and commission meetings that were equally heated. It only has to happen once and you can never have it back.

It seems to me that it is completely worthwhile, in light of new strengthened firearms rights, to think about our responsibilities over government buildings as “sensitive places,” places where we can speak our minds and do our business without worrying about whether the pistol needs to go inside or can just stay under the seat for the next trip to the country.

We spent a long time growing out of our “Dodge City” phase. We should, and we are legally empowered to, discuss whether we want to go back.

Doug Dumbrill, a former Gillette police officer, is an attorney in Gillette.


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  1. An exception to a rule cannot be used to gut the entire meaning of the rule. Allowing such a thing would throw all statutory interpretation into chaos. If Dumbrill wants to interpret the mere wearing of a firearm as a riot, how are police given an exception to that? We should make a citizen’s arrest of those rioters!

    I remember an editorial I read a long time ago, to the effect that there is no person more harmful to the right to bear arms, than a gun owner willing to carry water for the gun prohibitionist movement. With friends like Dumbrill, who needs enemies? Perhaps he should move to California, where he can feel safer. Oakland, maybe. Leave Wyoming to people who want freedom.

  2. Mr Dumbrill
    Like you I was raised in Wyoming. However Ive spent a large portion of my life living in other states and cities. I can assure you that Wyoming is a safe place to live due to the gun laws that we DONT have . Wyoming is a very civilized place. People are generous and helpful and are willing to stop to help someone fix a flat tire if that is what is necessary. This is because we feel SAFE. We feel safe bacause we have the ability to protect ourselfs. The wild west does exist today as you stated. It exists in Places like Los Angeles and Chicago and New Jersey. Places with strick gun control laws. In these places the criminal elements congregate and rape and pillage at will.
    Secondly, we as a people gave authority to other people to manage our great state and cities. People we pay generously and give many perks to. A goverment building is not a building of the government. It is a building of the people. The governmental employees who we graciously allow to work and congregate in these buildings are there at the peoples will. It is not their place to tell the people what they can and cannot do in their own buildings.
    Lastly we have a constitution in this state. It does not give authority to the goverment to regulate guns. If fact it espressly prohibites it. This same constition also is the only one in the country that makes it perfectly clear to the government that the people DO have the right to dispose their goverment if the time comes when the goverment goes against the will of the people.

    “All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness; for the advancement of these ends they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.”

    You being a prior Peace Officer made a sworn declaration to defend this constitution. are you now breaking your oath?

  3. Government buildings only become “sensitive places” when the entities and people inside them conduct their affairs dishonorably.

    The only way to be consistent in your argument, Doug, is to apply your rule to the police, first. After all, you must apply your same reasoning for carrying a sidearm to the police as you do to the local citizenry:

    “They are packing to intimidate [Citizens] into seeing things their way and to keep opposing voices from speaking out. Even if that’s not the subjective reason, it is the clear effect.”

    I appreciate your familiarity with various arms, Doug. However, you’ve missed the point of the second amendment, entirely.

    Terence

  4. You, Mr. Dumbrill are what I like to refer to as a civil rights termite. You burrow your way into the foundation of liberty and destabilize the integrity of the entire structure, one little nibble at a time. You seem to presume that anyone carrying a firearm in public is some sort of domestic terrorist with a sinister agenda. I would have to disagree with you. I believe that once you initiate the act of neutralizing our rights you will create and or empower that which was your intention to quell. My opinion as to where and when a firearm should be carried goes as such; a person has the right to feel safe and secure where ever they are whether that be at a city council meeting or the local grocery store. What allows people who do not carry guns in order to feel safe and secure the right to take the source of my feelings of safety and security? Are their rights and desires to feel safe and secure in public somehow more significant than mine? Are these people more deserving of their desires because of their views on gun ownership? The fact of the matter is that we all have fears, some people are afraid of dogs. Now are we going to make new laws restricting dog owners based upon what would seem to be an irrational fear to you or me? No I think not. We are not about to restrict dog owners based on a few peoples fears but the person with the dog phobia would most assuredly disagree! I am the former resident of a state that has restricted gun rights to the point of total suffocation of the 2nd amendment. If you want to see what a society without the right to bear arms looks like look no further than California. The crime in this state is like nothing you will ever experience, you are not safe in public nor are you safe at home. I have had friends shot in the face while watching TV in their living rooms, I have had loved ones car jacked at gun point, I have had family members raped as they lay in their own beds waiting to fall asleep! When criminals with guns outnumber law abiding citizens with guns the result is California! Advantage criminals!!! Another example of this would be Mexico. Citizens without guns = Tyranny

  5. “In the course of my 30-year legal career, I have been in courtrooms where, had firearms been present among the litigants, they would certainly have been used.”

    The above quote has no basis in fact, it is pure conjecture. An armed society IS a polite society. The author wants to take the exception to the rule, and have us lay down our natural right to carry to satisfy his ego because something bad “might” happen. Something bad WILL happen if we lay down our rights – to ANY authority. I’ll take the “might happen” over the “will happen” any day.

  6. The phrase in question that must be interpreted by government authorities is this –

    “Regulate, prevent or suppress riots, disturbances, disorderly assemblies or parades or any other conduct which disturbs or jeopardizes the public health, safety, peace or morality in any public or private place.”

    So the question becomes this – does the lawful carry of a weapon disturb or jeopardize the public health, safety, peace or morality in a public or private place. The key words are “disturb” or “jeopardize”.

    I do not believe that a good citizen carrying a weapon to a town council meeting jeopardizes safety, peace or morality. Quite frankly, I believe that carrying increases safety and peace, regardless of location. There are studies to back up my claim, but that’s irrelevant. The author disagrees with my opinion, obviously believing that such carry jeopardizes one or more of those four things. OK. He’s no more of an authority on it than am I, so it’s up to the court system decide whether my interpretation or the author’s is right. Go ahead Gillette – enact such a law and see what happens in the ensuing court case.

    Note the last three words or the phrase: “or private place”. If the author’s interpretation is upheld by court decisions, then it gives the Gillette town council the right to ban all ownership of all guns in anybody’s home in the city limits of Gillette. Is that the kind of power the author believes the state conveyed to Gillette with the statute? If he believes that, I believe that he’s flat out wrong, and that he has severely overestimated the authority given to towns by state statutes, and that the courts and/or the legislature would rectify such a misconstruction by enacting court jurisprudence or change the statutes to specifically de-authorize Gillette from banning the ownership or carry of guns.