CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- The Wyoming House of Representatives narrowly voted down legislation Wednesday that would have prevented local government officials in the state from passing any gun control laws, under penalty of heavy fines or even removal from office.
House Bill 60, sponsored by state Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, got 38 votes, two short of the two-thirds majority needed for the legislation to be introduced.
The bill would have added teeth to a Wyoming law already on the books that gives the state primacy over gun laws and prohibits cities, counties and other local bodies from passing their own laws regulating or banning firearms except to prevent rioting, disturbances or disorderly assemblies.
But late last year, the Casper City Council controversially banned openly carried weapons at city government meetings; the Gillette City Council shelved a similar proposal in May.
Under the legislation, anyone who has a local gun rule enforced against them could sue for a permanent injunction and may be awarded up to $200,000. If any local official or employee knowingly passed or enforced such a law, they would be removed from office.
Speaking on the House floor Wednesday, Kroeker said asserting state primacy over gun rules would ensure that firearms regulations are consistent across the state.
But House Majority Leader Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, said while he supports the idea in principle, he questioned the wisdom of removing the provision allowing local governments to suppress rioters wielding guns.
"If you riot or create a disturbance without a gun, the city officials can take away the weapon. If you riot or disturb the peace with a gun, [under the bill] the official is fired and the city can be sued for damages up to $200,000 plus attorney's fees," Lubnau said. "If we go forward with this bill, we need to do lots of work to fix it."
Kroeker said he would take Lubnau's advice to tinker with the language of the bill. He said he was optimistic he could get the bill passed next year, when only a simple majority is needed for introduction.
Anthony Bouchard, executive director of the Wyoming Gun Owners Association, which threatened lawsuits over the Casper and Gillette gun bans, also said he was optimistic that the proposal would be approved next year.
Casper City Councilman Maury Daubin said he opposed the House bill even though he also voted against banning openly carried weapons in city meetings. Both proposals, he said, were unnecessary.
"I fully believe that the city had the right under the exception that was carved out by the Legislature to enact that," he said. "I don't think that it rises to the level where it needs that kind of response from the Legislature."
Since there are already reasonable restrictions for weapons in places such as courtrooms and the legislative chambers, Daubin said the bill's sponsors should have spent their time pushing for more meaningful laws.
"If this kind of legislation is the only thing I could hang my hat on to say that I was a legislator that supported people's Second Amendment rights, I think it's pretty thin," he said, "when they haven't shown the support for more important gun rights bills."
Casper Councilman Paul Bertoglio, who was mayor when the City Council acted and who opposed the ordinance, said the Legislature should have focused on reasonable restrictions for open carry or addressed acceptable situations for local governments to regulate firearms. Instead, he said the proposal attempted to strike all local government control.
"The bill itself was just way too far, it just exceeded any normal or any rational controls over potential problems where weapons could be involved."