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Governor vetoes bill permitting guns in meetings

Mar 16, 2017 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Law too 'murky,' says Mead

Gov. Matt Mead has vetoed a bill that would have allowed concealed weapons in government meetings.

House Bill 137, the "Wyoming Repeal Gun Free Zones Act," stated that anyone able to lawfully carry a weapon in Wyoming could bring a concealed weapon to any meeting of a government entity on public property.

In a letter this week to Secretary of State Ed Murray, Mead argued that the legislation takes power away from local governments, which ought to be able to decide whether concealed weapons are allowed in their own meetings.

"This act removes the ability of local elected officials to govern the carry of concealed weapons into local meetings and events," Mead wrote, adding, "We place great value on government closest to the people, in cities, towns and counties."

He noted that the Wyoming Association of Municipalities opposed HB 137, in particular due to the loss of local control involved.

Legislature

In addition, Mead continued, HB 137 would have instituted different rules for legislative meetings as opposed to local government meetings.

For legislative meetings, the bill stated that anyone able to lawfully carry a weapon in Wyoming could bring a concealed weapon as long as the meeting is held "where the carrying of concealed weapons is permitted."

The phrase in quotes was not included in the language related to other government meetings.

During discussion, legislators noted that the Jonah Business Center, where the Legislature has been meeting while construction is ongoing at the Wyoming Capitol, does not allow weapons on the property.

Weapons aren't allowed in the Capitol building, either.

"If you approve this bill ... we're going to mandate every other government entity allow concealed carry, but not us," Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said during discussion last month in the House.

"I have difficulty going back to my constituencies and local governments saying we passed a law that you have to have concealed carry in your public meetings (but we don't). Someone had better explain to me how that's a good idea."

'Murky'

In his letter to Murray, Mead questioned whether the Legislature intended to place greater restrictions on concealed carry in its own meetings.

"If that was the intent, an explanation is necessary as to why," Mead wrote. "If the bill is suited for local government, why not for the legislative body?"

He went on to call HB 137 "murky," suggesting that the topic be examined further before any legislation is passed.

"A law of this import must be thoughtful and clear - not subject to question or misinterpretation," Mead wrote. "Repeal of gun-free zones should have the benefit of a full review by a joint legislative committee during an interim period between sessions. This allows for full discussion and involvement of the public - in particular an opportunity for local governments to weigh in on the issue. I encourage the legislature to make this a topic of interim study."

Local legislators

Both of Fremont County's senators spoke in favor of HB 137 during the legislative session.

Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, was one of the sponsors of the bill, along with Rep. Tim Salazar, R-Dubois, and Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis, and several others.

"I really do believe in the Second Amendment," Case said when HB 137 was read for the first time in the Senate. "It's quite clear it's an individual right to have your ability to protect yourself and have firearms."

He noted that people who attend government meetings aren't screened to determine whether they're carrying a gun. Therefore, as Case, Senate President Eli Bebout and other legislators argued, allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons in government meetings would make those meetings safer.

"I don't think gun-free zones are good anywhere," Case said. "I think they're killing zones."

Some senators talked about the limits to Second Amendment rights, noting that felons and the mentally ill are not allowed to carry guns, and firearms aren't allowed in most schools and government buildings.

Case responded that Wyoming's constitution is much clearer than the U.S. Constitution when it comes to the right to bear arms. On subsequent days of discussion on the bill, Case again referred to the Wyoming Constitution, which states "The right of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and of the state shall not be denied."

"How much simpler does it get?" he asked. "If you want to change the constitution, bring an amendment and see how the people of Wyoming, and this body, feel about that."

Bebout agreed, calling it the legislators' "obligation to make these kinds of decisions... to defend the constitution."

Bebout and Case both voted for HB 137 to pass on third reading in the Senate, though neither approved of the Senate amendment that instituted different rules for legislative meetings as opposed to local government meetings.

The House also opposed the Senate amendment, initially failing to concur with the changes to HB 137. The representatives later rescinded the move, however, and did vote to concur with HB 137.

All of Fremont County's representatives voted "ay" on concurrence the second time.

"This is a major piece of legislation," Salazar said. "It needs to pass. It needs to go forward."
 

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