Lawmakers question gun control by local authorities
March 10, 2022
CHEYENNE — Before the Second Amendment Protection Act cleared the Wyoming House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers debated whether public servants would uphold the law.
The bill eventually passed 43-15, and an amendment to delete the enacting clause of the bill was withdrawn.
But there were still lawmakers unsure as to the power it held. They questioned whether law enforcement officers would continue to follow federal gun control laws and executive orders, and if local attorneys could convict them.
“In this bill, your local attorney is the only one that can press charges against the law enforcement,” Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, said in opposition to the bill. “And they are not going to press charges or bring a suit against the people they work with every day.”
This fear went beyond the judiciary realm.
Laursen said he was also concerned law enforcement agents across the state would infringe upon Second Amendment rights, with no pathway for citizens to fight back. He shared a letter he received in January from a sheriff, which he said upheld his opinion.
The letter read, “Our employees know the power law enforcement wields when it comes to temporarily restricting constitutional rights, and it is only done as a last resort.”
Fellow representatives argued against the statement that officers were not advocates for gun rights in Wyoming or mindful of the consequences.
Along with a declaration of authority under the U.S. and Wyoming constitutions, and the prohibition of enforcement of federal regulation of firearms and accessories, there are misdemeanor penalties for violators included in Senate File 102. Public officers who infringe upon the guaranteed right to bear arms would risk up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Opponents of the bill said this wasn’t enough. They wanted citizens to have the ability to file for cause of action and not rely on government checks and balances.
“We need to be careful that we don’t become like the crowd that wants to defund the police, and that’s what this sounds like,” Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, said in defense of law enforcement. “When I hear that this current bill that we’re discussing has no teeth, and yet it will send one of these gentlemen we’re talking about to jail for a year, I have to humbly disagree.”
Police officers have rallied around the legislation throughout the 2022 budget session because they said they see merit in the protections. Sheriffs, officers and lobbyists testified in support during committee meetings and gave input on how to make the bill applicable.
Bear said that if representatives didn’t trust law enforcement leaders to make the right decision, then that had to be corrected at the polls by constituents.
“To say that they will never defend the public, why do we even have them if they’re not going to defend us? They do every day,” he said. “We have an opportunity here to do something that protects our citizens that our law enforcement is actually in favor of. They’re willing to put their jobs on the line.”
This was unconvincing to the minority who voted against the bill, though they recognized the Second Amendment Protection Act was splitting the gun advocate community.
“It is very troubling to think that law enforcement thinks that they have the wisdom to know when it’s appropriate to set aside our constitutional rights and when it’s not,” said Rep. Robert Wharff, R-Evanston. “And I can tell you, if we pass this bill, if we pass Senate File 102, which we are very much on the verge of doing, that sets a law on our books that does nothing that it purports to do.”
This story was published on March 10, 2022.