CHEYENNE — Wyoming residents could carry concealed guns without a permit under a bill that cleared its first hearing in the state House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The House voted 48-8 in favor of the bill after stripping off a proposed committee amendment that would have disallowed people from carrying concealed guns if they were too intoxicated to drive a vehicle. The bill already has passed the Senate and needs two more hearings in the House.
Rep. Jon Botten, R-Sheridan, spoke for the amendment that would have specified that anyone carrying a concealed weapon would be deemed to have given consent to a chemical test to see if they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“I submit that the amendment is not directed at everyone,” Botten said. “It's directed at those who believe that getting intoxicated and carrying a weapon is a good thing. I haven't met anyone who's advocating for drunk people carrying guns, so I don't understand that criticism too much.”
Rep. Lisa Shepperson spoke against the amendment. She said there's a critical difference between state law that requires drivers to undergo chemical tests and seeking to require one for people carrying guns: driving is a privilege while carrying guns is a right.
“That's an infringement on our rights,” Shepperson said of the proposed amendment. “Just because we're carrying a concealed weapon, we have to give up some of our other basic rights?”
Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, co-sponsor of the bill, started discussion of the bill by reading provisions from the state and federal constitutions that enumerate citizens' right to keep and bear arms. He said three states — Alaska, Arizona and Vermont — now allow citizens to carry guns without requiring permits.
If the bill passes, Wyoming still would continue to offer concealed-carry permits for citizens who want to carry their guns in other states under reciprocal agreements, Jaggi said. The permit system requires police background checks for applicants.
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The House also defeated a proposed amendment sponsored by Rep. David Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, who proposed changing state law to allow people to carry concealed guns in schools, bars, government buildings and other places they're currently prohibited.
“I think it would be tremendously hypocritical of us to say that 'you can carry a concealed weapon any place you want, but you can't carry it into any of our meetings,'” Zwonitzer said of the Legislature.
The House defeated Zwonitzer's proposal after Jaggi and others said expanding the list of places where citizens could carry guns wasn't the purpose of the bill.
Rep. John Patton, R-Sheridan, also spoke against the bill. He related that when he was growing up, his father told him never to point a gun at anybody. He said it took him some time to realize that his father was concerned that if he did point a gun at anyone, he himself could get hurt or killed.
“I don't know about you guys, but I feel perfectly safe, and I never carry a concealed weapon,” Patton said.
Rep. Lorraine Quarberg, R-Thermopolis, spoke in favor of the bill. She said the House has passed it twice before, but it hasn't cleared the Senate.
“We have a very strong sense of protecting individual's rights, and in particular, Second Amendment rights,” Quarberg said of the House.
Quarberg said enacting the state's concealed carry permit system several years ago eroded citizens' rights by putting restrictions on their ability to carry guns. She said enacting the bill to allow concealed carry without a permit would restore the rights of all citizens.