Kerry Drake

Kerry Drake

Wyoming columnist

To a far-right state senator who wants to knock off a suddenly unpopular Wyoming Republican congresswoman next year, sponsoring a bill called the Second Amendment Preservation Act probably seemed like a sure vote-getter.

Instead, Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) looked stunned at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Senate File 81 — Second Amendment Preservation Act as law enforcement officials compared him to the GOP’s No.1 anti-gun villain, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California).

“[SF 81] merely copied [President Joe Biden’s] administration and Nancy Pelosi’s effort to demonize law enforcement in the name of, in this case, the Second Amendment,” said Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.

“I see that the hypocrisy of this bill knows no bounds,” Sweetwater County Sheriff John Grossnickle said, “and frankly it’s a sad, sad day for law enforcement in the state of Wyoming if this bill proceeds the way it is.”

Ouch! What did Bouchard do to offend his law-and-order constituency?

His bill is intended to send a message to Washington, D.C., Bouchard said, that Wyoming won’t stand for any new federal laws that put gun owners at risk of losing their constitutional rights.

Bouchard is aiming to go to D.C. himself. He's challenging Rep. Liz Cheney in next year's Republican primary.

If a message is what the former director of Wyoming Gun Owners was after, he should have sponsored a joint resolution that, while not a law, would have passed overwhelmingly and made voters feel good about telling the fictional yet infinitely politically useful gun grabbers they shouldn’t mess with Wyoming.

Instead, Bouchard went the full Monty, sponsoring a bill that would make cops vulnerable to lawsuits and the possible termination of their jobs by stripping them of so-called qualified immunity.

Bouchard’s first mistake was to declare that the federal government has no constitutional right to enact “any federal statutes, executive orders, court orders, rules, regulations or other actions that collect data or restrict or prohibit the manufacture, ownership and use of firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition exclusively within the borders of Wyoming.”

Because it does have such powers, of course. States can’t simply ignore federal laws, as several people reminded the Judiciary Committee.

“From the inception of this country, constitutional law has been very clear on this issue: There are no states’ rights to nullify federal law,” said Linda Burt, former director of the ACLU’s Wyoming chapter. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down these laws, and will continue to. The case law is very strong as far back as 1824.”

Legislators pushing SAPA laws here and in 14 other states know this. They just don’t care. That’s because their real objective isn’t nullification, it’s scoring political points. That they’re wasting the people’s time and money — very real money when it comes to defending unconstitutional laws in court — is of no concern, so long as they get to blast the Biden administration and beat their chest about being gun champions.

Polls show that nearly 90% of Americans support the types of expanded background checks the administration is calling for are. But Bouchard and his ilk aren’t running to represent or uphold mainstream American values. They’re running to win red-state Republican primaries where extremism is the order of the day — the gun nuttier the better.

“The whole idea is that we have a shift in Washington and they actually want to use everything they can to go after our guns. … We have an out-of-control federal government,” Bouchard said.

WASCOP officials said SF 81 puts peace officers in the untenable position of being sued and/or terminated for working on cases with federal law enforcement agencies.

The law could have some gun owners thinking federal laws don’t apply to them, Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) said. Bouchard replied that his bill is “part of a push and shove, and [the feds are] going to shove back and we’re going to see where we’re at.”

Essentially, Bouchard is willing to put residents at risk of prosecution to prove that the federal government overstepped its bounds. Law-abiding citizens, he contended, don’t have anything to worry about.

Burt cited an example that showed the folly of such laws. After Kansas passed its SAPA in 2013, she noted, a military surplus company relied on the state law to manufacture and sell short-barrel rifles and silencers that were against federal law.

The business owner and a customer were both convicted of a federal felony, and the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear their appeal in 2019.

Bouchard sponsored SF 81 to capitalize on gun owners’ fears. Instead, he had to swallow Grossnickle’s claim: “With this legislation, Wyoming is going to become the little sister to some in Washington, D.C., who believe abolishing qualified immunity, demonizing law enforcement and ultimately defunding the police is the answer to the problem.”

Imagine Bouchard, figuratively joined at the hip with the Black Lives Matter movement and other progressive protesters. That had to sting. So must the Senate's decision Wednesday to gut his bill, which he ended up voting against.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and can be reached at kerry.drake33@yahoo.com.

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