CHEYENNE — With some trepidation, Gov. Dave Freudenthal on Thursday signed into law a bill asserting that Wyoming-made firearms are exempt from all federal laws and regulations.
The law, which takes effect in July, is meant as a shot at the federal government. But it’s unclear whether the law will remain a symbolic declaration of states’ and Second Amendment rights, or spark a confrontation between state and federal officials.
Under the law, any firearms made from scratch in Wyoming — besides automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers — are officially exempt from all federal gun laws so long as the gun isn’t taken out of the state.
That means no three-day waiting period to buy a Wyoming-made gun, no federal firearms license needed, no federal taxes to pay.
People convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, who are banned under federal law from possessing a firearm, can now purchase a gun — so long as it has a “Made In Wyoming” logo on it.
At the same time, though, the Firearms Freedom Act toughens Wyoming state gun laws: it bans convicted felons, mental patients and people younger than 21 from being able to buy Wyoming-made firearms.
Right now, the law’s effect is mitigated by how few guns are made in Wyoming. The only gun manufacturer that makes firearms from scratch in the state is Freedom-based Freedom Arms.
The company’s dozen or so workers laboriously hand-build revolvers from stainless steel. The price of each revolver starts at $2,000, or about two to three times the cost of a mass-produced gun.
Freedom Arms President Robert Baker declined to say how many guns his company makes, though he said in an earlier interview that “the big (firearms) companies put out more in a day than we put out in a year.”
Though Freudenthal signed the bill into law, he voiced concern that the new law will thoroughly confuse Wyoming residents about which gun laws apply to them.
As the governor pointed out in a letter to state legislative leaders, a convicted nonviolent felon in Wyoming is now prohibited under state law from buying a Wyoming-made gun. But there’s nothing in state law prohibiting nonviolent felons from buying an out-of-state gun — though there is such a ban in federal law.
In addition, Freudenthal noted in the letter, a felon who uses out-of-state ammunition in a Wyoming-made gun would still be subject to federal prosecution. And the law has varying age requirements depending on if the gun is a shotgun, firearm or rifle.
“This is a confusing maze that will not serve Wyoming well,” Freudenthal concluded in the letter.
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Wyoming is the third state to pass a Firearms Freedom Act, after Montana and Tennessee. The laws are all based on the argument that since the federal government justifies its ability to regulate firearms on a section of the U.S. Constitution allowing Congress to regulate interstate commerce, any guns that never leave a state are exempt from federal control.
But Wyoming’s Firearms Freedom Act is harsher than the other states’ laws, as it says that any state or federal official who tries to enforce any federal gun law on firearms made and sold in Wyoming could face a $2,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
That can conjure up images of a Wyoming sheriff moving to arrest a U.S. marshal — or any prosecuting attorney, or a judge — who tries to enforce a federal gun law on a Wyoming-made firearm.
But will such a scene actually take place?
“That’s a question we’ve sort of asked ourselves,” said John Powell, a spokesman with the U.S. attorney’s office in Cheyenne. “We’re not exactly sure how this is going to play out.”
Powell said the issue was in the hands of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. An ATF spokesman declined comment Thursday.
State Rep. Alan Jaggi, R-Lyman, said some confrontations could happen.
“I think it could be a possibility if we had some overzealous — do I want to say bureaucrat? — that would just say, ‘Hey, we’re going to show these states we have all the authority,’ ” Jaggi said. “States’ rights — I’m willing to say that’s important enough to us to do it.”
The first big confrontation could take place in a courtroom: Gun advocates in Montana are testing that state’s Firearms Freedom Act in federal court. If a federal judge strikes down the Montana law, gun advocates in Wyoming might file a lawsuit testing Wyoming’s law.
Jaggi, a self-described “gun nut” who owns about 25 firearms, disagreed with Freudenthal’s objections and said he doesn’t view the bill as confusing at all. Jaggi said he softened parts of the bill at the request of law enforcement officials to give them the authority they need to keep Wyoming streets safe.
But, Jaggi said, the bill needed to have teeth for the federal government to take it seriously.
“This does draw a line in the sand in saying our state sovereignty means something — please let us have it,” Jaggi said. “If it comes to push and shove, I hope we’re willing to stand up for our rights rather than just be pushed around.”
Contact Jeremy Pelzer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-632-1244.