Guns in schools bill advances in Wyoming Legislature

Proposal would repeal state's law that says K-12 school are 'gun-free zones'

Feb. 15--CHEYENNE -- A bill allowing guns in public schools continues to advance through the Legislature.

The House Education Committee voted Friday to approve House Bill 111. It now moves to the House floor. It will need to clear three votes there before it can proceed to the Senate.

The proposal would repeal the state's law that says K-12 schools are "gun-free zones."

Instead, it would let school boards decide if they want to allow firearms on school property and, if so, how the policy should be enforced.

Rep. John Eklund Jr., R-Cheyenne, is sponsoring the bill. He said it could help school employees respond quickly to a dangerous situation.

He added that some of the more rural parts of the state are particularly vulnerable under the current law if there is a school shooting.

"Presently, there are communities with little enforcement nearby. Some of them have response times of an hour or longer," he said.

"So the design of the bill is to fill in some of these gaps."

The legislation would allow each district to develop its own regulations. But it would limit people who can carry firearms on school property to employees who hold concealed carry permits.

It also would require anyone who wants to possess a gun in a school to complete 40 hours of firearm training.

The proposal is endorsed by the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police and the Wyoming School Boards Association.

Lawrence Anderson, representing the school boards group, said the bill is an important local control measure.

He said districts should be able to decide how they want to deal with the issue.

"We trust all of our education, all of our buildings and everything that goes on to our boards of trustees," he said.

"So I think this is a good step moving forward."

But Kathy Vetter, president of the Wyoming Education Association, told lawmakers to reject the bill.

She said even people with the required firearm training do not necessarily know how to respond to an active shooting situation.

And Vetter said allowing guns in schools could make classrooms dangerous because accidents could occur.

"I don't want a student to be injured because something happens," she said. "We've had people drop their guns right here in Cheyenne in businesses and people have been hurt.

"How would you feel when that is a 5-year-old kindergartener who is shot because that happened?"

The bill also faces opposition from Wyoming Gun Owners, a vocal advocate for extending gun-ownership rights.

Cheyenne resident Anthony Bouchard, who heads the lobbying group, calls the proposal a "counterfeit gun bill" that is poorly drafted.

He said it does not go far enough in honoring the Second Amendment.

"I don't think we need a knee-jerk policy to fix something that we could really sit down and get fixed," he said.

He said the bill creates a "patchwork" of different rules that would be hard to follow when people travel from one district to another. Instead, the state should adopt a single unified gun policy for all districts, he added.

Bouchard said that could follow a recent Utah law which says it's a right for qualified concealed-carry permit holders to have guns on school property.

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, has different problems with the bill.

She said she has heard from parents and teachers who told her they will leave their district if guns are allowed.

Connolly argued that the better solution is to fund more student resource officers who are trained to deal with dangerous situations.

But the House Education Committee advanced the bill on a 6-3 vote.

Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle, said he voted for it because the state should trust its school boards to develop policies that are best for their given situations.

"This is a very well-balanced bill that addresses many of the issues," he said. "I'm a huge proponent of local control, and this couldn't be done better as far as addressing that issue."

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