Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, listens during the first day of the 66th Wyoming Legislature’s in-person session Monday, March 1, 2021, inside the state Capitol. The session will run through Friday, April 2. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – A bill that would repeal many gun-free zones in Wyoming for those with concealed carry permits was advanced by a legislative committee Friday morning.

If approved by the Legislature, Senate File 67 would allow residents with concealed carry permits to bring firearms to government meetings, sporting events, University of Wyoming facilities, community college campuses, public schools and publicly funded hospitals, though as under current law, school districts would still be able to regulate their employees’ ability to bear arms.

The legislation also strips the ability of cities, towns and counties to prohibit concealed carry firearms in meetings.

Bill sponsor Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, described his proposal as “another step of the state of Wyoming following through on the promise of the Second Amendment,” noting residents with concealed carry permits undergo an intense vetting process.

“I have no problems with people that have been thoroughly vetted sitting here with a firearm,” Driskill said. “In fact, it would make me feel more comfortable.”

His point was echoed by bill cosponsor Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, who said unlike previous proposals to repeal gun-free zones, the bill applies only to those with concealed carry permits.

“I think people that go through the rigor of getting a concealed carry permit are ready to be careful and only use their weapon when necessary – and, generally, it’s not,” Newsome said.

However, several residents testified in opposition to the measure, arguing it would make those public spaces less safe. Cheyenne resident Beth Howard, a chapter leader of the national gun safety group Moms Demand Action, argued the bill could have unintended consequences, such as children accessing misplaced guns inside school facilities.

“The bill is offered as a solution to prevent gun violence, but the reality is that the increased presence of guns introduces new risks and does nothing to intervene before shootings happen,” Howard said.

Howard also noted Wyoming has one of the highest gun suicide rates in the country, echoing a point raised by several critics of the bill that it would potentially compound the state’s mental health issues.

The measure had opposition from several industry groups, including the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, the Wyoming School Boards Association and the Wyoming Association of Community College Trustees. Cheyenne Regional Medical Center CEO Tim Thornell also spoke against the bill, noting the hospital has its own security force to keep it secure.

In contrast, members of the committee viewed the bill as providing additional safeguards within the facilities included in the bill.

“God forbid a shooter gets into a school. I would want somebody with a concealed (carry permit) to stop that intruder before they shoot 20 or 30 students, so I’m supportive of this bill,” Sen. Tim French, R-Powell, said.

Under existing law, Wyoming residents can carry a concealed weapon without a permit, though Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, emphasized this bill would only apply to those who have obtained a permit. In Wyoming, there are more than 30,000 concealed carry permit holders, according to the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation.

“It doesn’t allow wholesale concealed carry into hospitals or schools or anywhere else,” Cooper said. “This is for state-issued permits only. That’s a very important distinction, and it’s something that’s been ignored by most of the testimony here today. As such, with those restrictions, I speak for the bill.”

Senate File 67 ultimately advanced by a 4-1 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, with only Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, opposed to the measure. The bill will now head to the Senate floor, where it will need to gain three votes of approval before it could advance to the House of Representatives.

Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at tcoulter@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.

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