By Hannah Shields
Wyoming Tribune Eagle 

Wyoming senators pushing to protect gun rights for citizens

 

February 22, 2024



Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — Federal regulation around gun laws has prompted some Wyoming lawmakers to work to preserve gun rights for residents at the state level.

Three bills were forwarded to the Senate floor by members of the Senate Agriculture, State and Public Lands, and Water Resources Committee on Tuesday. These bills would broaden access to gun ownership in the state, with one or two taking a stance against gun law regulation by the federal government.

Two years ago, federal lawmakers urged banks to adopt a new merchant category code for credit card purchases of firearms, a strategy to help law enforcement track terrorist activity through flagged firearm purchases.

Senate File 105, “Wyoming Second Amendment Financial Privacy Act,” sponsored by Sen. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, would prohibit banks and credit card companies from creating a code specific to firearm purchases.

“This potential for cooperative surveillance and tracking of lawful firearms and ammunition purchases will have a significant chilling effect on citizens to exercise their federal and state constitutional rights to keep and bear arms,” the bill reads.

If passed into law, the legislation would prohibit any state or local government, agency or entity from obtaining a list of the purchase of firearms by private citizens. A section at the bottom of the bill exempts any state or local government, entity or agency from immunity from tort liability under this statute.

This bill is similar to one that he brought last year, Laursen said, but was held back after hearing concerns from bankers and credit unions.

National Shooting Sports Foundation director of government affairs Nephi Cole said his primary concern is that people with a firearms merchant category code (MCC) could be denied credit services down the road.

“This isn’t necessarily just a credit card issue. It’s the assignment of the codes issue,” Cole said.

Language amended into the bill encompasses all entities responsible for assigning MCCs, Cole said, while excluding Wyoming banks and credit unions that have no control over MCC assignments.

Cole added that Visa announced it would not assign MCCs to states that have put into law their opposition to a special firearm code. He said this is why it is so important Wyoming puts this in its statute.

Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, asked Cole how Wyoming would choose a code that doesn’t flag firearm purchases.

“When you pick a code, won’t the federal government know what that code is?” Kolb asked.

Cole said the code has to be broad enough that it encompasses more than one specific type of item. For example, the purchase of a firearm could go under sporting goods or general merchandise.

“The bill says you cannot have a code that specifically allows you to know that it’s a firearms entity,” Cole said. “We think that is the right approach.”

Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police (WASCOP) Executive Director Allen Thompson asked lawmakers to amend the bill in order to provide an exception for law enforcement agencies that keep records of seized firearms during investigations.

“In order for us to properly do our jobs in cases involving firearms, we must have a record of that firearm,” Thompson said.

This amendment was unanimously adopted by members of the committee. Kolb proposed an additional amendment to strike section one to “keep (the bill) clean.”

A second bill advanced by the committee is another state protection against federal policy — SF 109, “Prohibit Red Flag Gun Seizure Act.”

Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, who sponsored the bill, said this legislation was necessary to protect “innocent” Wyoming residents from having their guns taken away without due process.

“Red flag gun seizures basically violate due process rights — you’re getting your constitutional rights taken away from you without the process,” Biteman said. “That should be absolutely unacceptable in the state of Wyoming.”

“Red flag gun seizure” is defined in the bill as any federal/state statute or judicial order/finding that prohibits or removes the ability of a specific person to own a firearm. Biteman said there is a “common sense measure” included in the bill that exempts individuals with a violent criminal record or under a protective order issued by the court.

Thompson told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle red flag laws don’t exist in Wyoming, and that this bill simply codified “what we’ve already been doing.” His only amendment to the bill, which was successfully adopted by the committee, was to create an exception for law enforcement to seize firearms during an investigation.

Kolb asked Biteman about individuals who sell drugs but don’t technically have a record of violent offenses. In his eyes, it didn’t feel quite right to say these individuals should be allowed to own a gun.

“If you’re a drug dealer, and you’ve got 1,000 pounds a week, non-violent, we’re going to allow those folks to (own a gun)?” Kolb asked. “That’s my concern.”

Biteman said he was willing to add an amendment to address that concern, but didn’t offer any on the spot.

“If you’ve got language that you think can tighten that up, go for it,” Biteman said. “I don’t think a pile of weed is violent.”

Gun Owners of America National Director Mark Jones pointed to a federal grant program under the bipartisan Safer Communities Act signed by President Joe Biden in 2022. This program allocates federal dollars to states that enact and enforce red flag gun laws.

Jones said this was the president’s way to “bribe” states to enact these red flag laws.

“For my knowledge, we checked the other day, (and) Wyoming has not taken this money,” Jones said. “But there is always the threat that Wyoming might.”

It was for this reason, he said, that it is important that the Wyoming Legislature pass this bill into statute. The bill was also advanced by the committee in a unanimous vote.

SF 73, ”Concealed firearms- permit eligibility,” would add an amendment to current statute to allow individuals convicted of a one-time nonviolent crime under the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act to apply for a concealed carry permit. Currently, these individuals are barred for life from such applications, Thompson said.

“What we’re trying to do with this bill is to rectify that. If your rights are restored, you will be eligible for a concealed firearm permit,” Barlow said.

A bill passed in the 2023 general session restored voting rights to individuals who were convicted of a nonviolent felony. Barlow said it was called to the attention of numerous legislators that the state should allow these individuals the right to carry a concealed firearm five years after completing their sentence.

Kolb said he was worried about putting Wyomingites “in crosshairs” with the federal government. He didn’t want to tell these residents they could have their rights restored at the state level for a federal felony, and then be unable to defend them in federal court.

“When they go to federal courts, it doesn’t matter what we say,” Kolb said.

Barlow said the federal nexus has “always been a gray area,” and that is something of a states’ rights issue.

“I have really severe reservations about jeopardizing (Wyoming citizens),” Kolb added.

Committee Chairperson Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, who voted to advance the bill, said she agreed with the bill’s objectives, but would remain skeptical of it on the floor, for the same reasons Kolb pointed out.

The bill was forwarded on a vote of 3 to 1, with Kolb as the single no vote and one senator excused.

This story was published on February 21, 2024.

 
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