Gun rights bill approved by committee

Ellen Gerst, Casper Star-Tribune via Wyoming News Exchange
Posted 3/18/21

A bill intended to protect Wyoming gun owners from potential federal restrictions will be discussed on the Senate floor after passing unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

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Gun rights bill approved by committee


CASPER — A bill intended to protect Wyoming gun owners from potential federal restrictions will be discussed on the Senate floor after passing unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, says he penned SF 81 as a way to protect the Second Amendment in Wyoming and to preempt efforts by Congress to further regulate, restrict or confiscate firearms.

It seeks to invalidate federal laws governing gun ownership among law-abiding citizens, spanning taxation, transfer, confiscation, and registering or tracking firearms or owners.

“We have a shift in Washington,” Bouchard told the committee Wednesday, “and they want to use everything they can to go after our guns.”

Most of those giving testimony Wednesday affirmed a commitment to the Second Amendment, but voiced a wide range of concerns with the bill as written. For one, its intended nullification of certain parts of federal law may be unconstitutional — both on the state and federal level.

The bill also includes a clause that would remove qualified immunity, or the personal protection provided to public employees including police who violate the law while performing their job, for officers who “knowingly” enforce federal restrictions on firearms.

Bouchard told the Judiciary Committee that he doesn’t agree with recent progressive efforts to end qualified immunity, which have gained momentum following last summer’s protests of police brutality.

Several sheriffs, along with executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police Byron Oedekoven, said that clause would discourage officers from doing their jobs.

Oedekoven said the language in the bill’s current version is in line with efforts in Washington to demonize law enforcement and remove qualified immunity.

“We support what is intended with the bill,” Oedekoven said, “but the impact on local law enforcement is not good.” 

Sheridan County Sheriff Allen Thompson said officers and agencies in Wyoming often need to cooperate with federal agencies for help and funding for investigations and gathering intelligence for local cases. Severing those ties by not enforcing federal laws on gun ownership, he said, would end up hurting law-abiding owners and victims of gun violence.

Crook County prosecutor Joseph Barron gave the example of an officer responding to a suicide call where the person has a gun. Under this proposed bill, he said, the officer in that situation may only be allowed to confiscate that weapon if they can confirm the person is not a “law-abiding citizen,” or else they would be in danger of getting sued and losing their job. 

The qualified immunity clause also allows agencies (not individuals, pending an amendment by Bouchard) to be sued by citizens for enforcing those federal laws. Barron said that could lead to more prosecution and more taxpayer money spent in the courts.

Wyoming gun owners Linda Burt, the former executive director of the ACLU, and Gail Symons, a GOP activist, said the bill, as proposed, would be unconstitutional in its presumed nullification of federal law. According to the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution, federal and constitutional law override state laws that contradict them — and courts will have to side with the federal code if forced to decide between the two.

Simmons said a better approach would be allowing Wyomingites to sue the federal government for instances which infringe on gun rights.

In closing discussion on the bill, Bouchard reiterated that his intent is to work with law enforcement on this effort, not against them. Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, who is sponsoring a parallel bill in the House, said they had reached out to sheriffs for feedback but heard nothing.

After passing with a 5-0 vote out of the Judiciary Committee, the bill will head to the Senate floor for discussion.