Wyoming Senate Revives Bill Repealing Most 'Gun-Free Zones' After Committee Defeat

AP Photo/Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Christopher Mullen

In theory, Wyoming's House Bill 125 shouldn't have faced much difficulty this session, and in fact the measure sailed through the House with little debate and few objections. 

It's been a far different story in the state Senate, however. On Monday night the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 to defeat the bill, which would remove the "gun-free zone" designation for most government-owned buildings and facilities in the state, which ordinarily would have meant the bill had no chance of becoming law this session. 

In a surprise move, however, the state Senate voted to suspend its own rules and bring the bill out of committee and on to the floor for a vote, even rejecting Senate President Ogden Driskill's contention that the bill needed a two-thirds majority to move forward after the rules had been set aside. Instead, the Senate voted 16-15 to approve HB 125 on first reading, and if two more votes take place today and Thursday then the measure will be sent on to Gov. Mark Gordon. 

The committee's rejection of the bill raised eyebrows among senators, but it's Driskill's attempt to keep the bill on ice that's really roiled the chamber.

Driskill called suspending the two-thirds rule Tuesday “absolute idiocy” and the result of a “raw power struggle on the floor.”

“This is an embarrassment, folks, and you’re participating in it. It pains me to no end to talk to you this way,” Drsikill said. “Is there going to be any rulings that come out of that chair that don’t get appealed?”

He also warned the Senate against setting a precedent for endless challenges and questioning of leadership, and said he wasn’t sure if he had made a single decision this session that hadn’t been challenged by a member of the chamber.

The one-vote majority in favor of HB 125 is indicative of the deep divide amongst Republicans, who hold 29 of the 31 seats in the upper chamber. Driskill's supporters see the move to suspend the rules as a flouting of Driskill's authority and legislative practices, while HB 125's backers say the unusual move was necessary in order to advance what's arguably the most important 2A bill to be debated in Wyoming since the passage of Constitutional Carry in 2021. 

Sen. Fred Baldwin, R-Kemmerer, said Tuesday’s action sets a bad precedent for the Senate.

“I think it’s a very bad precedent because this means, does committee work really mean anything?” he questioned. “I think it does, but apparently the majority of the body doesn’t think so.”

Although he doesn’t believe what happened Tuesday should become a regular occurrence in the Senate, Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs, disagreed with Baldwin, seeing it as an effort focused on the legislation at hand. He doesn’t believe gun-free zones are effective and that concealed carry should be allowed on public school grounds.

“The bill died a death in Judiciary yesterday and this is just a way to bring it back and have a floor discussion because it’s probably one of the biggest gun bills that has come about in a long time,” he said. “It’s really a big thing.

Second Amendment advocates also spoke in favor of the decision Tuesday.

“Criminals and madmen don’t obey gun-free zone signs,” said Mark Jones, a representative of Gun Owners of America. “Gun Owners of America worked hard to educate senators about the legislation to repeal gun-free zones in Wyoming and we are excited that the Senate voted to bring this critical Second Amendment bill to the floor for discussion.”

Yes, it's unusual to advance a piece of legislation after it's been rejected by a committee, but it's not completely unheard of, and if a majority of senators weren't in favor of doing so then Sen. Dave Kinskey's bid to revive the measure would have gone down to defeat. 

It sounds to me like Senate leadership didn't want this bill to move any further than it already had, but they were at odds with a majority of their fellow Republicans. Rather than rolling over and accepting the edict from on high (as we've seen in Florida this year, where Senate President Kathleen Passidomo has successfully derailed open carry legislation), Wyoming senators did an end run around leadership's decision to scuttle HB 125. 

So long as the Senate follows up their move yesterday with the required votes to formally adopt HB 125, I'd say it's worth Driskill's dismay over the legislative sausage-making. The state already has pretty good gun laws, but this would be a definite improvement over the status quo; scrapping at least some of the worthless "gun-free zones" that only disarm the law-abiding and allow Wyoming gun owners to bear arms in places that are currently off-limits to lawful concealed carry. 

We'll see if Driskill has any parliamentary tricks of his own up his sleeve to deprive HB 125 of receiving the final two votes it needs to be engrossed and send to the governor. If the bill does manage to escape the Senate, I'm sure that those Republicans who've voted against the bill will be lobbying Gordon to veto the bill once it gets to his desk, so the measure is hardly guaranteed to become law. Many of the Republicans who voted against the bill, including those Republicans on the Judiciary Committee who rejected it, say that their constituents are opposed to the measure, so Wyoming gun owners need to make some noise of their own now and in the days ahead if they want to see HB 125 not just resurrected, but enshrined into state statute.