Firearms Freedom Act passes; governor to sign it

2010-03-04T00:00:00Z Firearms Freedom Act passes; governor to sign itJEREMY PELZER Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
March 04, 2010 12:00 am  • 

CHEYENNE — Legislation asserting that firearms made, sold and kept only in Wyoming are exempt from all federal gun laws is set to become law after it easily cleared the Wyoming Legislature on Wednesday.

Supporters say the bill is mainly a symbolic shove against the federal government, and it remains to be seen whether the fight will carry over to the courts or even to Wyoming streets.

The Wyoming Firearms Freedom Act passed the state Senate without objection on Wednesday. Gov. Dave Freudenthal has indicated that he will sign the bill into law. Two other states, Tennessee and Montana, have enacted similar laws.

Wyoming’s Firearms Freedom Act, though, is harsher than those laws, as it states that any state or federal official who tries to enforce any federal gun law on a firearms made and sold in Wyoming could face a $2,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

While that might conjure up images of Wyoming sheriffs arresting U.S. marshals who try to enforce federal laws on Wyoming guns, state Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, said the bill was mainly intended to be a symbolic assertion of Wyoming residents’ constitutional rights.

“I think unless we have some overzealous federal officers, this is not a real big deal to them,” said Jaggi, who authored the legislation. “I’m hoping that nothing really happens except that other states see, ‘Hey they did it — let’s do it. Let’s assert our state rights.’ ”

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Cheyenne did not return a call seeking comment late Wednesday afternoon.

Ironically, the legislation also toughens state gun laws: it bans convicted felons, mental patients and people younger than 21 from being able to buy Wyoming-made firearms.

Byron Oedekoven of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police said those changes allayed most fears law enforcement had with the bill.

But, he said, it was uncertain exactly how the bill would play out once it takes effect in July.

“At first blush, I think it will be OK,” Oedekoven said, “But it’ll take some analyzation to look at it to figure out some of the nuances and figure out what we do with a Wyoming criminal with a Wyoming gun.”

Wyoming’s gun industry isn’t very large. Bob Baker, president of Freedom-based Freedom Arms, the largest gun manufacturer in Wyoming, declined to say how many guns his company makes.

“We’re a very small company, let’s put it that way,” Baker said. “The big (firearms) companies put out more in a day than we put out in a year.”

There are also a handful of custom firearms craftsmen in the state, but Oedekoven said in most cases they wouldn’t be covered under the law, as they are refurbishing firearms made outside Wyoming.

Freedom Arms only makes revolvers; Oedekoven said rifles currently wouldn’t be covered, as no rifle barrels are made in Wyoming. In addition, the legislation doesn’t cover fully automatic weapons or rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

But even if the law doesn’t produce real-life conflict, the Wyoming Firearms Freedom Act might pop up again in a federal courthouse.

Currently, gun advocates in Montana are testing that state’s Firearms Freedom Act in federal court. If a federal judge strikes the Montana law down, gun advocates in Wyoming might file a lawsuit testing Wyoming’s law, said Wyoming Gun Owners Association Executive Director Anthony Bouchard.

Even if the laws are eventually ruled unconstitutional, advocates say the Wyoming Firearms Freedom Act, the toughest such bill in the nation, has opened people’s eyes to the issue. “We’ve already done something that other states haven’t been able to do,” Bouchard said.

Contact Jeremy Pelzer at jeremy.pelzer@trib.com or 307-632-1244.

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