January 25, 2017
Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) warned the Wyoming House Judiciary Committee Tuesday that it was about to hear from a lot of gun-hating liberals using scare tactics to bad-mouth the state’s gun owners.
What the nine lawmakers heard, though, were reasonable arguments about why it’s a terrible idea to allow concealed guns to be carried on college campuses and at governmental meetings, including the Legislature.
The committee listened to representatives from the University of Wyoming, the state’s community colleges, cities, public school teachers, and a civil rights group. It ignored them all, voting 6-3 on the campus carry bill (HB-136) and 8-1 in favor of guns at governmental meetings bill (HB-137). Rep. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester) is the lead sponsor of both bills.
The results were essentially predetermined when the bills were assigned to Judiciary. Four of the nine members of that committee sponsored both pieces of legislation. The bills will now go to the entire House for debate.
Testifying in favor of both bills were the Wyoming Gun Owners (a group headed by Bouchard), and a few individuals representing themselves. Bouchard described concealed carry permit holders as “the gold standard” a least 10 times during his brief presentation. The gold standard of precisely what, he didn’t say.
Bouchard said supporters of the bills have been coming to the Legislature for several years with no success. He called fellow freshman Biteman’s 2017 version a “good, clean compromise bill.”
Confused, since there are no compromises contained in the bill, Rep. Charles Pelkey (D-Laramie) asked the senator, “Where are we compromising?”
Bouchard said Wyoming has allowed gun owners to carry without holding a concealed carry permit since 2011 “and we don’t see the sky falling.”
“As a gesture we are saying that we will compromise this time because we want to bring the gold standard to you and show you that’s a good thing,” Bouchard said.
As close as we can translate, Bouchard effectively says gun owners can carry weapons in Wyoming without a permit now, and because under the bill they would be required to have a permit to carry guns around campuses and at city council meetings, it’s a “compromise.” Gun owners don’t have to do it, though—it’s a gesture of their benevolence. We should feel grateful.
What Bouchard conveniently fails to mention is that weapons are now specifically banned by the state from universities, colleges and all governmental meetings, including the Legislature—whether or not the gun owner has a permit or not.
Chris Boswell, University of Wyoming’s vice president of governmental and public affairs, said guns could cause problems on campus when students have been drinking or using drugs, are contemplating suicide, or are present at tense situations at events like football games.
“We’ve all witnessed the very high emotions that occur as a result of activities at a sporting event, or rotten calls by an official,” Boswell said.
Rep. Catherine Connolly (D-Laramie) said UW should be concerned about more than just football games. She’s a professor of women’s studies at the university, and noted she testified in that capacity, not as a legislator.
“I would say at least once a year I need to take a student over to Student Health Services because they’re distraught,” Connolly said. She explained such students aren’t just crying, but they are incredibly angry over a grade or something else that provoked them.
“That is the reality of being in the environment of 17-to-24-year-olds. Passions are high,” she said. When that passion is combined with drugs and alcohol that shouldn’t be there but are there, Connolly said, a student may lose hope and become suicidal.
Wyoming’s suicide rate is consistently among the worst in the nation. For young people, the rate here is twice the national average.
Sara Burlingame, education and outreach coordinator for Wyoming Equality, told a story about visiting Cheyenne East High School last year to talk to the Gay-Straight Alliance. LGBT students did an exercise in which they invited comments from the rest of the student body.
“They received a number of threats,” she recalled, adding that the students told her they threw them away. “When I asked them to tell me what they said, they said, ‘Oh we can’t use that language’… the comments were so vile.”
In such a bullying environment, where students are making direct threats against LGBT students, Burlingame said, it’s no place to add guns to the mix.
Michelle Sabrosky, who identified herself as the membership coordinator of Bouchard’s Gun Owners group, said she isn’t worried about the possibility some students could bring guns to college and kill themselves.
She said suicide is “tragic and horrible, but I don’t think guns are the only way people manage to end their lives. It’s a college campus, let’s be honest, there are drugs and alcohol there. Students will find a way to take their life if that’s what they’ve decided. Taking firearms from law-abiding citizens is not going to reduce the suicide rate.”
Because, you see, not allowing guns on college campuses means the government is “taking firearms from law-abiding citizens.”
Sabrosky said her daughter goes to Casper College. “I want to know there are law-abiding citizens there who are ready to act to save her life in case another madman walks onto campus,” she said.
But there was no one to stop the madmen on the Judiciary Committee (yes, all nine members of committee are men, as are all the bills’ sponsors). They passed the campus-carry bill on to the full House, and then passed the bill to allow guns at government meetings. Both will be debated sometime early next month.
Historically, bills to abolish gun-free zones at schools and in government meetings have been passed by high margins in the House, only to be killed in the Senate. But that was before the Senate gained the gunslinger Bouchard. We’ll see if his powers of persuasion concerning his signature issue live up to his self-anointed “gold standard” status—or if he’s just shooting blanks.