A Wyoming Gun Rights Activist Pushes Back Against Calls for Gun Regulations

National Director of Hunter Programs for the Gun Owners of America says the solution to gun violence isn’t fewer guns, it’s more of them

  • Published In: Columns
  • Last Updated: Aug 19, 2022

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Wyoming has the second-highest rate of gun ownership in the nation, with over two-thirds of Wyoming adults living in a household with a firearm, according to a 2020 study by the RAND Corporation.

As mass shootings continue to dominate the headlines and support for gun regulations increases in some parts of the country, the Wyoming Truth spoke with Mark Jones, national director of hunter programs and Wyoming legislative director for the Gun Owners of America, about his Second Amendment advocacy in the Equality State and across the nation.

Avid hunter and gun rights activist Mark Jones serves as Wyoming legislative director for the Gun Owners of America. He often takes his 10-year-old dog, Faith, with him on hunting trips. (Courtesy photo from Mark Jones)

Jones, a former wildlife biologist who previously worked with the state fish and wildlife agency, is an avid hunter himself. “The Second Amendment is not about hunting, but hunters should be about the Second Amendment,” he said.

Our conversation touched on new federal gun regulations, Wyoming gun deaths and what gun control advocates misunderstand about gun owners. What follows are experts from the interview.

In June, President Biden signed into law a bipartisan bill imposing new gun restrictions, the most significant federal gun control measure in decades. What was your reaction to the legislation?

Jones: We didn’t like the final version that passed; we opposed it. It contains money for states to implement red flag laws, which we view as unconstitutional. And it also redefines the requirements for selling firearms, which could make criminals out of law-abiding people. So we don’t feel like it was a good piece of legislation, and we fought it until the bitter end.

Beyond increasing funding for red flag laws, the legislation expanded background checks for gun buyers under 21, increased funding for mental health and drug treatment, and closed the so-called ‘boyfriend loophole’ so ex-partners accused of domestic violence can no longer purchase firearms. Does your group oppose any of those measures?

Jones: The boyfriend loophole can be abused, depending on how they write the regulations. Theoretically, anyone you ever went on a date with could decide to accuse you. Or say you had one date four years ago, that person could accuse you of being a threat and you can be deprived of your constitutional rights without due process. . . .

And the red flag laws are ripe for abuse. You know, a lot of studies have shown that at least one-third of red flag accusations are false. And to deprive someone of their Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms, their Fourth Amendment rights not to be subject to unlawful searches or seizures and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process, that’s a pretty draconian law.

I’m not a mental health expert. I definitely think we need to address mental health issues in this country. I think when there were laws changed in the 1980s that made it harder to commit legal people and things like that, those things need to be looked at.

The background checks, those are also something we oppose.

We’ve recently seen an increase nationally in support for gun control regulations, with a majority of gun owners getting behind some measures like background checks. What do you make of that?

Jones: There’s an old saying in my profession — I was a wildlife scientist for 30 years — there lies, there’s damn lies and then there’s statistics.

That means you can manipulate data to achieve a desired outcome. Now, obviously, if you are a responsible scientist, you don’t do that. But I think a lot of times the data is manipulated, the way the survey questions are asked…

Bottom line, I don’t believe the data. I don’t believe the numbers that 80 percent of Americans support gun control. Look at the monumental increase in gun ownership in the last 10 years, monumental increase in ammunition purchases, monumental increase in concealed carry laws. I think 26 states now have some form of constitutional carry where you don’t even have to get a permit.

I think the American people understand and realize that a law-abiding citizen with a gun is a good thing that allows them to protect themselves and their family . . .

Wyoming has the third-highest firearm death rate in the nation, about 26 people per 100,000 according to the Centers for Disease Control. Should the state try to address it?

Jones: Assuming that that data is accurate, I’m sure it’s related to suicides, not violent crime. We don’t have a violent crime epidemic in Wyoming like in many other states, I think we can both agree on that.

About 86 percent of gun deaths in the state are suicides, far higher than the national average.

Jones: Yeah, and I don’t think that is because of the availability of guns. I think that’s because of other issues. I understand that Alaska has a high suicide rate. It’s a very sparsely-populated place, with long winters. I’m not a sociologist nor psychiatrist, but there are a lot of social factors that go into these suicide rates. So I think it’s intellectually dishonest to say Wyoming has a lot of suicides because we have a lot of guns. We have a lot of suicides because we have some underlying social and psychological issues that need to be addressed. If people don’t kill themselves with guns, I’m sure they will find a way with pills or other ways.

What do gun control advocates misunderstand about gun owners?

Jones: Law-abiding gun owners are not a threat to anybody. If they were, it would be like the Wild West, because there are more Americans armed right now than at any time in our history.

Law-abiding gun owners are not the problem. And what I wish gun control advocates would understand is that we need to stop criminals from hurting people. We don’t need to stop law-abiding people from having access to firearms.

The school example is probably the best one. You know, we’ve had school shootings, they’ve increased over recent decades. The Gun Free School Zones Act has never done anything to stop a madman from shooting up a school. There are 16 states that allow teachers and staff that volunteer and go through training to be armed in school. Every district in the state does not necessarily take advantage of this program; it’s usually left up to the school district.

There has never been a school shooting in a school with armed teachers and staff. That is because they are a deterrent to a madman. So we should be having discussions about how to really protect our kids against madmen and criminals, not disarming law abiding people. …

There’s an old saying that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, and that’s true. We protect our politicians with guns. We protect our precious institutions around this country with guns. And yet in some cases people don’t want to protect children with guns. So I don’t honestly think most gun control advocates want to solve the problem.

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