CASPER — A bill intended to exempt Wyomingites from future federal restrictions on gun rights passed the Senate floor Wednesday with a 24-6 vote.
Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, sponsored Senate File 81 in an attempt to provide proactive Second Amendment protections for “law-abiding citizens” in anticipation of federal restrictions on guns coming from the Democratic administration.
After a series of amendments overhauled Bouchard’s original version of the bill, the sponsor voted no on the version presented on third reading Wednesday.
Concerns over the bill’s constitutionality, practical enforcement and its proposal to strip legal immunity from officers who “knowingly” infringe on citizen gun rights dominated the discussion when Bouchard presented it to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
Several law enforcement officers testified that the removal of qualified immunity — a topic of much debate on the left side of the aisle nationwide after last year’s police brutality protests — may make it harder for them to do their jobs. In some situations, including domestic violence or threats of suicide, officers need the authority to confiscate a gun from a citizen without being afraid they’ll lose their job or be sued over it.
Legal experts and lobbyists told the committee that, as written, the bill was in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution under its Supremacy Clause which prohibits state statutes from being passed when in direct conflict with federal law.
Regardless, the bill passed that committee unanimously on the condition that it would be amended to fill some of those holes.
The original version of the bill clocked in at 13 pages. After a series of amendments, the version headed to the House floor is about three pages long.
“As I look at this (amendment), this just guts the bill,” Bouchard said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “We have some of this language in the Firearm Freedom Act, it hasn’t done anything for us. ... Now I’m going to vote no.”
The others who voted no were Sens. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson; Tom James, R-Rock Springs; Troy McKeown, R-Gillette; Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie; and Tim Salazar, R-Riverton.
The most noticeable changes include the addition of a time stamp for enforcement and a defined avenue for citizen and judicial review of federal laws or actions related to gun rights.
Bouchard initially proposed the bill would apply to any federal laws or orders passed after April 1. The amended version brought by Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, allows citizens or organizations in Wyoming to file a petition asking the state attorney general to review any federal legislation passed after July 1 of this year. A petition would require a minimum of 25 signees.
The attorney general would then be tasked with deciding whether the federal law in question is unconstitutional or not. If the law is found to infringe on Second Amendment rights, the governor can examine it and determine whether stopping enforcement would benefit Wyoming citizens. Then, they can pass an executive order prohibiting law enforcement across the state from enforcing the legislation or from helping federal agents enforce it in Wyoming.
On Wednesday, Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, cited a recent case in Kansas, where there’s a similar law that aims to protect gun owners whose firearms are made, sold and kept in the state. When two men were prosecuted under federal law for failing to register and pay taxes on a silencer made and kept in Kansas, the state law didn’t save them from a felony conviction in U.S. Circuit Court. Now, their felon status means they can’t own any firearms at all.
An amendment introduced during the bill’s third reading in the Senate is intended to help citizens who run into federal legal trouble. It would allocate $250,000 from the state’s general fund to the attorney general’s office, which will allow the A.G. to represent any Wyoming citizen in violation of a federal law deemed unconstitutional by the state.
Bouchard also said that since the legislation only applies to future federal laws, ones in place now including the National Firearms Act, of which the Kansas case was a violation, would still be enforced in Wyoming.