Guest blog provided by Mike Morris, a recent graduate of the University of Wyoming who has been reporting and assisting in production of Wyoming PBS’ Capitol Outlook series on the Wyoming legislature.
Given the traditionally incendiary nature of gun control-related issues, it was hardly surprising that the most heated debate of the day in the Wyoming House of Representatives concerned, well, packing heat.
After a lengthy bout of back-and-forth testimony under the familiar billing of firearm control vs. firearm rights, the House voted down HB70, which would have prohibited the carrying or possession of firearms in designated buildings such as secured courts.
The bill failed on its third reading by a decisive 39-20 margin, with one voter absent.
At times on Wednesday afternoon, it felt as though firearms, themselves, were in court standing trial – and if this was the case, the House ruled definitively in favor of the defendant.
Given the concern about National Rifle Association (NRA) vote ratings among members of the House, the result was hardly surprising. But along the way, some of the banter between legislators set off fireworks on an otherwise peaceable afternoon.
Advocates on behalf of the bill argued that the Second Amendment does not define any specific right for people to carry firearms in all situations, particularly in courts and in schools.
Rep. Kermit Brown, for example, cited Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s famous opinion on the First Amendment (*Schenck v. United States*), proclaiming that fundamental rights sometimes must be conceded in certain situations to preserve the general safety of the public.
“You don’t have a right to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” Brown said. “The same applies for bringing a firearm into a secure court.”
Legislators opposing the bill, however, were stern and unyielding.
Many solons voiced concern about placing restraints upon individual rights, claiming that the bill would threaten fundamental liberties.
“The only way you can stop (rights from being taken away) is for people – good people – to keep the right to bear arms,” Rep. Amy Edmonds said. “I think that the good people in this state have the right to keep firearms, and that they have the right to access the courts – their buildings.”
Rep. Allen Jaggi tried to break the tension, quipping, “I didn’t know I could carry in here – I think I’d already be packing” to a round of laughter.
In the end, Jaggi and his fellow supporters of gun rights got the last laugh on this issue.