By John Celock
Wyoming lawmakers Monday voted to advance legislation that would allow guns on college campuses and make it easier for teachers to carry guns.
The state House of Representatives on voice vote gave preliminary passage to a package of gun legislation that would allow for guns on campuses, to allow local school districts to permit teachers to carry guns and to clarify rules regarding gun free zones in the state to allow for guns to be carried to public meetings.
“We are trying to set the gold standard and we want to lead the nation. There are a number of states around the nation that have already did this,” Rep. Mark Baker (R-Rock Springs) said in the debate over campus carry. “They have population and student bodies that are far greater than our state.”
The legislation, which still needs final state House approval to advance to the state Senate, would make Wyoming the ninth state in the country to allow guns on college campuses. The House approval came after lawmakers defeated an amendment that would allow for college boards to make final approval to allow guns in individual campuses.
Supporters of the local control amendment argued that it would allow the individuals campuses to make decisions that were in the best interest of their campuses. House Minority Whip Charles Pelkey (D-Laramie) said that the local control amendment was important to the University of Wyoming, noting that the decision should be made locally and not by the state Legislature.
Opponents said that it would not allow a consistent rule across the state and would take control from elected officials. While trustees at the state’s community colleges are elected, trustees at the University of Wyoming are appointed by the governor, with the exception of the elected state superintendent of public instruction.
“Elected officials can be held accountable and should be held accountable,” Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R-Sundance) said.
Rep. Sue Wilson (R-Cheyenne) told her colleagues that allowing guns on campus would make people feel safer in the case of an active shooter situation. She told a story about having gone to a mall that banned guns when several armed robbers were on the loose after holding up a local pharmacy.
“Of course I thought gee, where would I go for lunch with armed robbers running around the city. At the end of the meeting I had to drop off some film to be developed,” she said. “While I was waiting I thought I’d go to the mall to wander around for half an hour. I went to the mall which has a sign that says no guns are allowed. When I went in the mall I saw that the jewelry stores and other retailers had pulled down their metal screens and sent their people home. The question is by prohibiting guns in the mall were the law abiding people in the mall safer. I didn’t feel safer.”
Rep. Tim Salazar (R-Dubois) talked about being in the military until recently and said that 18 and 19 year olds in the military are trained to handle weapons and are responsible. He said that students on campus can have the same maturity to handle weapons if they so choose. He also noted that the age for a concealed carry permit in Wyoming is 21.
The campus carry and public meetings bill were sponsored by Rep. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester).
The guns in schools legislation would allow local school districts to permit teachers to be armed during the school day. Proponents, led by Rep. John Eklund (R-Cheyenne) said the bill would make school districts, particularly in rural parts of the state safer, since teachers would be able to be armed and fight off active shooters before police arrive. Supporters noted that in some rural areas, it could take police over 30 minutes to respond to a school.
“The main concern is rural areas without law enforcement,” Eklund said. “They can lock the doors but they have windows.”
Opponents argued that arming teachers could backfire in the schools. Rep. Debbie Bovee (D-Laramie) told her colleagues that it would not stop school shootings and it could possibly put the teachers in the line of fire.
“I am against repealing any free gun zones. People who engage in school shootings are mentally unstable. They will come in,” she said. “If there is an active shooter the police will come in guns a blazing and they will shoot anyone with a gun. Teachers protect students but I don’t know how devastating it would be for a student to watch their teacher kill someone.”
Wyoming takes up the campus carry bill as the issue continues to grow in debate around the country. Texas adopted campus carry last year, joining Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin in allowing guns at colleges.
Kansas lawmakers are debating legislation to repeal campus carry, which is set to take effect this July. A state House committee is due to hold a hearing on repeal legislation Wednesday. A state Senate committee held a hearing on the repeal bill last week.
In Kansas, opponents of campus carry have said that the bill would make the state less attractive to students from in and out of state. During the Wyoming debate, Baker argued that campus carry would make Wyoming colleges more attractive to out of state students.
“We are having trouble recruiting to our state,” Baker said. “When we have these liberties we can recruit people. When we allow people to protect themselves we can recruit them.”