Public safety — especially when it comes to firearms — is one of the most divisive issues in the nation. Mass shootings in schools and other public arenas have gripped people and left us all feeling, no matter how insulated our community may seem, that some of these instances are too close to home.
We all want to find ways to prevent these tragedies. Folks cannot seem to agree, however, on how to reach that end. Some have called for extended measures on background checks or banning certain kinds of weapons and accessories. On the other hand, many feel the way to deter shooters from carrying out plans or stopping them in the act is to have a wider presence of guns carried by law-abiding people. Gun-free zones, they say, are an obvious target for those looking to inflict harm.
Wyoming is certainly one of the more pro-gun states in the nation. It’s natural with the state’s conservative leaning and frontier culture that our residents appreciate the self-reliance that comes with owning firearms. Many residents live in areas where law enforcement can’t quickly respond and lots of our neighbors are avid hunters. Whatever the reason for ownership, we can see plenty of merit to the views of those in our communities who just want the government to stay out of their ability to purchase and own guns.
However, as we see a measure making its way through the Legislature this year, we think it’s the right time to say that guns aren’t appropriate in every public setting. We’re not interested in getting bogged down in a big picture debate around constitutional rights when it comes to firearms, but when it comes to K-12 schools, government meetings and our colleges, we must insist that local control is the best policy.
Senate File 75 would strip local control for prohibiting guns in certain public arenas by repealing gun-free zones statewide. (And if SF 75 fails, there’s a mirror bill in the House waiting to follow it up.) If it passes, local control would be overridden, allowing licensed firearm holders to carry on the University of Wyoming campus, Albany County public schools and local government meetings. We think that’s a decision that needs to be considered heavily given the potential consequences – even if a misfire is an “accident.”
In sharing the story on the Boomerang Facebook page last week, one person commented that he looked forward to carrying a weapon in the Wyoming Capitol so lawmakers would not “feel safe” passing legislation not in-line with this person’s point of view. When it comes to government meetings, that pretty much says it all. How can policymakers be objective and make the best decisions when they are being intimidated by people brandishing weapons at meetings?
Even without guns, gun advocacy organizations have been able to intimidate lawmakers as bills move through the Legislature. In 2018 as Wyoming senators debated the so-called “stand your ground” bill, notes were passed to lawmakers in the chamber from the National Rifle Association and Wyoming Gun Owners warning them not to amend or vote against the measure as doing so would mean being classified as “anti-gun.” Vote for their measure or lose your seat to someone who will, was the message. These tactics are reprehensible and should be condemned by Wyoming voters.
UW’s gun prohibition policy was under the microscope this year after a legal challenge. Albany County Judge Tori Kricken ruled that state law does not prevent local governments from regulating guns manufactured outside of Wyoming. The gun-free zone repeal bill would attempt to address the matter in a way that would allow state law to preempt UW’s policy.
It is our hope that UW is able to uphold its policy. Advocates point to Utah where license holders are able to conceal carry on campus, and say there haven’t been problems, so why not allow it in Wyoming? Well, we don’t think there’s a problem that needs solving here. (Can we expand on this? was there a problem in utah that conceal carry supposedly solved?) In past years, UW leaders have expressed general concern, as well as specific concern around the Early Care and Education Center and allowing guns at athletic events. The Faculty Senate has on multiple occasions passed resolutions expressing concern about such a policy.
Law passed in previous years already allows K-12 school districts to make the decision whether to have trained personnel on campus with firearms in case of an active shooter situation. Why go beyond that? It might make sense for some rural school districts to have that kind of policy, but in Laramie we have no shortage of highly-trained officers from the various law enforcement agencies. Frankly, if Albany County were to introduce more firearms into our schools, we feel it would just be a matter of time before a gun falls into the hands of a child. If the gun-free zone repeal measure were to pass, private citizens could introduce firearms to campuses, as well. It just doesn’t seem like the right solution for our community.
Frankly, if Albany County were to introduce firearms into our schools, we feel it would just be a matter of time before a gun falls into the hands of a child. If the gun-free zone repeal measure were to pass, private citizens could introduce firearms to campuses, as well. It just doesn’t seem this is a solution to any apparent problem.
We applaud proponents of Senate File 64, which would create school safety and security guidelines. One might say that contradicts our stance of approving of local control for weapon prohibitions, but in this case, it sets a floor for school safety standards and creates a conversation among districts statewide on what they are doing to go above and beyond the state prescribed measures.
Instead of looking to add more weapons to our schools in the name of school safety, we should be talking about how forward thinking can make schools safer. We should have training so administrators, faculty, staff and students can recognize warning signs and know how to address them. There should be counseling programs that can help troubled children and adults so they don’t end up in hopeless situations that could lead to a tragedy. Technology can play a role in how we address safety. We don’t practice medicine as we did 100 years ago; so why are we trying to address public safety by saying we should detour dangerous actors with guns and resort to haphazard firefights involving private citizens if deterrence fails? The latter especially just seems unacceptable. Throwing guns at situations does not solve the root problems that could be addressed in more positive, proactive ways.
We know there are folks reading this whose blood is boiling. We know responses are being formulated and harsh rebuffs are likely en route. But we want to make clear that the stance we’ve taken is not to say we want additional restrictions on people’s rights to own and possess firearms. What we do mean to say is that state statute already allows local communities to make decisions when it comes to firearms. There are not problems now that would be solved be extending those rights in Wyoming, and there could be unintended consequences if we did. We say leave it up to local control in Wyoming.