Can Wyoming talk about gun regulations now?
— January 7, 2014
Imagine what Wyoming would be like if state leaders and business development officials spent as much time, energy and money recruiting safe, renewable energy manufacturers as they did courting a disenchanted gun factory to move here.
I know it’s only a liberal’s dream, but humor me for a few paragraphs.
You might open up your paper and see a story like this:
CHEYENNE – Wyoming’s governor and state legislators today welcomed SunGlory, a solar panel manufacturer it stole from California, the green capital of the nation.
SunGlory’s president and CEO said he was happy with California’s solar regulations, but Wyoming leaders made too good of a case for him to stay in the Golden State when Cheyenne beckoned.
We feel it’s a perfect fit,” said the businessman, wearing a cowboy hat that had just been presented to him by the capital city’s mayor. “Did you know that Cheyenne has 236 days of sunshine a year?”
The governor stepped up to the microphone. “As a matter of fact, I do know that,” he said, grinning. “That’s one of the reasons we competed so hard against almost every state in the country to get you here. We’re the nation’s energy capital, so we should be the leader in solar manufacturing.
“You think just like us,” the governor told the executive. “And we appreciate the fact that you’re moving your corporate headquarters here as well. You’ll be a big fish in our big energy pond.”
No, that will never happen, but why can’t Wyoming recruit other manufacturers with the same intensity it did to land Magpul, which pulled its factory out of Colorado when legislators there passed a few gun laws?
Wyoming officials weren’t the only ones who drooled over the possibility of adding Magpul’s 200-plus jobs to the local economy. Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Montana and South Dakota were among the states that announced they wanted Magpul after the company threatened to leave the state if Democratic Colorado legislators passed a so-called “anti-gun” bill package.
Chief among Magpul’s objections was Colorado’s audacity to restrict ammunition magazines – a product the company sells – to only 15 rounds.
It didn’t seem to matter that Colorado passed the law in response to several mass killings – including one in an Aurora, Colo., theater and another at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut – in which innocent moviegoers, students and teachers were gunned down by psychotics. In fact, the shooter in the Sandy Hook killings used 30-round mags manufactured by Magpul in Colorado. At some point, when the killer ammo comes from Magpul, it will be noted that it was made in Wyoming.
Yes, I know that if someone is crazy enough to go on a killing rampage, the shooter will obtain the guns and ammo some way and carry out his heinous plans. But why on earth should our government make it easier for them to access magazines loaded with 30 or more bullets? How many shots do law-abiding, safety-conscious gun owners need to defend themselves? These high-capacity clips certainly aren’t used for hunting; their purpose is to kill humans.
In the wake of Sandy Hook, President Barack Obama passionately talked about the need to pass some reasonable restrictions on assault weapons and ammunition. Polls showed national support for such laws. Congress, bowing to the National Rifle Association and other lobbyists for the gun industry, refused to pass a single bill.
When that kind of congressional cowardice happens, it becomes the duty of state legislators to work on legislation to keep their constituents safe. The bills that stirred up so much criticism for supposedly being anti-Second Amendment were passed by the normal legislative process and signed into law by Colorado’s governor. Gun rights advocates, though, were so incensed they launched successful recall efforts against two Democratic solons who were instrumental in passing these laws.
Such recalls are within the rights of all citizens if they disagree with legislative decisions. Magpul also had the right to threaten to pull out of Erie, Colo., if it believed gun restrictions being debated will hurt its business.
But it strikes me as odd that other states wouldn’t see the company’s bold threat to the Colorado Legislature as an extreme power play that could also be used against them if they were to anger its owner. If a company is willing to pull up stakes and move its factory to Wyoming and its headquarters to Texas over a dispute instead of lobbying for a compromise, what’s to keep it from holding its breath (remember that corporations are people too) and turning blue if it doesn’t get its way in Wyoming?
Instead of showing any sign of wariness, Cheyenne and Wyoming welcomed the company with open arms and plan to hand it millions of dollars in incentives to move to Cheyenne. That includes the city’s economic development agency, Cheyenne LEADS, asking the Wyoming Business Council for an $8 million grant and a $5 million loan to construct a manufacturing facility it will then lease to Magpul. LEADS is also committing several million dollars to the project.
I know this is Wyoming, a state so anxious to please the minerals industry that it allows lobbyists to write some of the laws that regulate it. Much of this activity has been hidden in recent years, though, after the Legislature passed a law that says the public can’t look at their emails and other correspondence that involves drafting legislation. To a lesser extent, agriculture has the same type of powerful influence on legislators.
Do we really need another industry that we’re just going to tell “come on in – how can we serve you?” Effectively, that’s what we told the gun lobby when Gov. Matt Mead stressed upon Magpul’s arrival that Wyoming “has a firm commitment to uphold the Second Amendment.” Gun manufacturers know that the state doesn’t pass gun restrictions, but do we have to take everything off the table just to get more jobs here? Isn’t there even a slight possibility that a legislator could draft a bill that puts in place some common-sense limits on weapons that the public would back?
No, instead we’ve chosen to elect officials who now have another reason to make every gun control bill dead on arrival – we can’t tick off an entire industry, can we?
Actually, it’s possible that state lawmakers may become completely superfluous to the issue of gun laws, so the industry doesn’t even have to pretend to care what they think. The Colorado Legislature is planning to consider a bill that would give only voters the right to make decisions on any proposed changes to gun laws. How long do you think it will take for that idea to travel to the Capitol Building in Cheyenne?
Unquestionably, Wyoming strongly supports the Second Amendment – it always has, and gun owners will see to it that it always will. But Magpul’s decision to dump our southern neighbor and move in with us doesn’t mean we have to do everything it wants.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.
— 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 email@example.com.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.