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Bill to block federal gun laws in state clears its committee

Jan 30, 2013 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- A bill that Wyoming lawmakers say could block possible federal restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines cleared its first state legislative committee hearing on Tuesday. However, the prospects of the bill becoming law remained murky.

The non-partisan Legislative Service Office has issued a legal analysis that stops short of passing final judgment on the bill but notes that the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes federal laws as the supreme law of the land.

"When there is a conflict between a state law or constitution and a constitutional federal law, the federal law trumps or pre-empts the state law," the analysis states.

Nonetheless, the House Judiciary Committee voted 8-1 to advance the bill. It also advanced a separate bill that would allow licensed citizens to carry concealed guns on school and college campuses.

The bill aimed at pre-empting possible federal gun restrictions would impose state felony penalties on U.S. officials who attempt to enforce any new bans on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. The bill now goes to the full state House for consideration.

Last month's killing of 20 elementary school children in Connecticut prompted President Barack Obama to call for a new federal assault weapons ban. The last such ban, which expired in 2004, prohibited the manufacture of new assault weapons but didn't affect those already in private hands.

The prospect of new federal gun control measures has reverberated through the ranks of the nation's gun owners in recent weeks.

Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, is the main sponsor of the bill that seeks to exempt Wyoming from any federal ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.

Speaking after the vote, he said it's possible the bill will be amended to specify that federal employees who try to enforce a ban would face only misdemeanor, not felony, charges.

"I have been just overwhelmed by the national response I've received," Kroeker said. "I've received hundreds of emails from out of state people, saying things like 'I'm considering moving to Wyoming because you take our freedoms seriously.'"

Kroeker said the bill could be a boon for Wyoming's economy if the federal government implements a ban.

"Maybe we'll have some firearms manufacturers relocate to the state where they're allowed to make their existing arms," he said.

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Legislature, Wyoming