Wyoming’s Pro-Gun Stance Unlikely to Shift as U.S. Senate Advances Gun Control Legislation in the Wake of Texas Mass Shooting
Gun advocates say school shootings less likely in Wyoming due to current laws
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Jun 23, 2022
Pictured is a display of firearms for sale at the Gunrunner Auctions store in Cody, Wyoming. (Courtesy photo from Scott Weber)
By Walter Ko
Special to the Wyoming Truth
As the U.S. Senate moves to pass the first gun control measure in decades in the wake of the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May, Wyoming could be one of the last states to embrace heightened restrictions on firearm ownership as it remains one of the most pro-gun states in the country.
Senate negotiators on Tuesday announced that they have reached final agreement on a bipartisan gun safety bill and that they have enough votes to pass it. In a joint statement, the senators said the bill “will save lives and will not infringe on any law-abiding American’s Second Amendment rights.”
The bill includes expanded background checks for prospective gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21 while incentivizing states that provide access to previously sealed juvenile records. In addition, it expands the law on preventing those convicted of domestic abuse from owning firearms.
The proposal also would incentivize states enacting so-called “red flag” laws, which allow law enforcement to obtain court orders to seize guns from those considered dangerous to themselves or others.
But the new gun control bill is not likely to garner widespread support in Wyoming, where state legislators publicly opposed adding any new restrictions regarding who can own guns.
In a letter signed on June 10, 12 members of the Wyoming House Freedom Caucus asked Wyoming’s Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis to oppose any attempts from the U.S. Senate to pass additional gun control measures, claiming they are attempts to violate constitutional rights.
“It is clear from our country’s history that those who will obey the laws of this land will do so while armed,” the letter reads. “Yet, those who will perpetrate evil, will do so with or without arms and when the prior are armed, the latter are meeker. Gun control legislation will not and cannot protect our school children.”
Second Amendment protections in Wyoming
Wyoming has traditionally been one of the most pro-gun states in America, with pro-gun advocates arguing that the state is relatively safer than other states from mass school shootings. The massacre in Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers were killed at an elementary school, is less likely to happen here, they say, because state laws permit school districts to arm their employees while on campus.
“Wyoming law allows a school district to train staff to be armed, and there has never been a school shooting in a school that allows armed staff,” Mark Jones, legislative director for Wyoming with the Gun Owners of America, told the Wyoming Truth. “Debate should be about why aren’t we protecting our schools and giving them the same level of protection that we give our politicians.”
Still, Wyoming reports a higher gun death rate than most other states, but stayed comparatively safe from homicides involving firearms, data shows.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wyoming reported 154 deaths from firearm use in 2020, a death rate of 25.9 deaths per 100,000 people. It is the third-highest rate after Mississippi with 28.6 and Louisiana with 26.3.
The state saw its gun death rate jump 54 percent from 2011 to 2020 while the country as a whole saw the rate climb 33 percent.
Only 10 percent of the average number of gun deaths in Wyoming from 2016 to 2020 are a result of homicides while the rate stands at 38 percent for the country. Wyoming, however, has one of the highest gun suicide rates in the nation.
Even if the bipartisan Senate bill is signed into law, Wyoming is positioned to automatically reject fresh restrictions, with the so-called “Second Amendment Protection Act” coming into effect on July 1.
The act prohibits state and political subdivisions in the state from enforcing or advocating any moves “that infringes on or impedes the free exercise of individual rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
The debate for and against gun control
Gun control advocates have consistently asked Wyoming to strengthen background checks and add fresh regulations to stop citizens who pose a threat from obtaining guns. They argue that adding more guns will not help, as many pro-gun advocates say, and claim that gun death rates are generally lower in states that report lower gun ownership rates.
The RAND Corporation estimates that 58 percent of adults in Wyoming lived in homes with guns in 2016—second to Montana at 63 percent. The national average was estimated at 32 percent for the same year.
“Wyoming has not taken major steps in the recent past to address certain important gun violence prevention issues such as firearm possession by domestic abusers or comprehensive background checks and has attempted to weaken its laws by adding more guns in schools,” Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocating for gun control, states on its website. “To become a safer state, Wyoming can strengthen its background checks, enact an Extreme Risk law, and prohibit domestic abusers from purchasing or possessing a firearm.”
Wyoming is one of 31 states where all firearms transfers by licensed dealers are processed directly through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for background checks.
The bureau uses the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database to run the background check. More than 300 million checks have been run since the system came into place in 1998 after the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was enacted in 1993.
The database is primarily comprised of information from local law enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. If no match is found within the database, the dealer is cleared to proceed with the transaction.
While federal law prohibits those with mental illness from possessing firearms and the FBI lists mental illness as one of the reasons for denials in running the NICS, Wyoming has no law in place to report mental health information to the NICS. This means that it’s possible for individuals with mental illness in Wyoming to purchase guns from licensed gun sellers.
The state also does not mandate background checks for firearm transfers by private sellers.
“(A lot of liberal media outlets) think, and I think (President Joe Biden) seems to think that the only place you can get a firearm is from me, an FFL dealer, but I bet you I can give somebody $500 and they will come back less than 10 minutes with a gun,” said Scott Weber, owner of the Gunrunners Auction in Cody, Wyoming, who has been in the gun selling business for 25 years.
Weber claims to have sold more firearms than any other company in Wyoming, and his experience suggests that obtaining a gun is much easier than what many believe. According to a 2018 report by the Small Arms Survey, gun owners in the United States possess 393.3 million weapons, higher than the country’s population of near 330 million.
“You just don’t go to a store – that’s not the only place you can get a new gun or a used gun,” Weber added. “There is no such thing as gun control. That’s actually a liberal journalistic term, kind of like a ‘Saturday night special’ or an assault weapon. It’s like a fake noun or adjective. It’s ridiculous…I mean, you can get a gun anywhere.”
Protecting children in schools from gun violence
Some parents in Wyoming agree, saying that taking guns away from certain groups of people is a limited tactic for preventing gun violence and protecting children in schools.
“Guns will be purchased and used whether it be legally or illegally,” Hilary Erickson, a 37-year-old mother of two teenagers, told the Wyoming Truth, suggesting that gun safety education may be needed instead of new laws to prevent gun-related deaths and injuries.
“Someone who is evil, and wants to do harm to others, is not usually a rule follower,” Erickson said. “They will do whatever it takes to cause the harm that they intend.”
Nicole Budge, a 41-year-old mother of a college student and a high school student, told the Wyoming Truth that the state may be better off by increasing financial support for people in need rather than pouring energy into enacting more gun laws.
“I don’t really think anywhere is immune to the threat of gun violence, and I don’t think anywhere is immune to the threat of violence,” Budge said. “I think there are sad, evil, unhinged, mentally unstable people everywhere and guns everywhere. I also think that if there were no guns, those people would use knives, bombs, and cars to carry out their attacks.”
In response to the mass shooting in Texas, the Wyoming Department of Education has been leading roundtable discussions with superintendents, staff and school board members statewide to reassess policies and procedures, with the goal of strengthening school security.
Chad Auer, deputy superintendent of public instruction who was appointed to lead the discussions, told the Wyoming Truth that he has been “listening to all of the concerns and proposals from anyone who wants to share them,” which will be compiled in a report for the state superintendent.
“Some want trained staff to have firearms in schools. Others assert that the only reasonable solution is to curtail or revoke the Second Amendment entirely,” Auer said. “Others suggest enacting ‘red flag’ laws, and others plead for more mental health support in communities across the state. Simply put, school safety and security, justifiably so, evokes strong assertions rooted in deep emotions.”
Staff reporters Shen Wu Tan and Madeline Thulin contributed to this report.