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State lawmakers lobby against new firearm restrictions

By Victoria Eavis
Casper Star-Tribune
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

CASPER — A bloc of conservative state lawmakers are urging Wyoming’s U.S. senators to vote against an impending gun control bill that would include funding for red flag laws.

Twenty members of the Legislature released a letter Monday opposing any form of gun control. A second letter written by the House Freedom Caucus also pushed back on attempts by Congress to implement new gun restrictions.

“Under NO circumstances should you allow any bill to advance that contains ANY form of gun control or firearm confiscation of ANY KIND, no matter how small or “indirect” it may seem,” the letter from 20 lawmakers states.

The federal bill is being developed following a string of mass shootings, including one that took the lives of 19 children in Uvalde, Texas.

So far, only a legislative framework is available, which 10 Republican senators have agreed to. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would be open to voting in favor of the bill if it ends up matching the framework that exists now. Wyoming’s Sens. Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso said they are not taking a position on the impending gun deal before the full text is available, which is expected in the next week or so.

In the meantime, many state lawmakers are already urging them not to support the bill.

One letter from Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Burns, and Rep. Robert Wharff, R-Evanston, was signed by 13 representatives and seven senators.

Every lawmaker was given the chance to sign the letter, Bouchard said. There are 90 lawmakers in the Wyoming Legislature.

Both letters honed in on opposition to so-called red flag legislation, while pushing mental health remedies and school safety measures. If passed along the lines of the framework, the Senate bill would give resources to states to implement red flag laws, which allow police or family members to request courts keep firearms away from people if they are a risk to themselves or others. It would not make red flag laws mandatory.

“We ask that you make efforts to introduce, co-sponsor, and support legislation that will strengthen school security so that they are no longer an easy target for these senseless actions of a few deranged individuals,” a different letter from Wyoming’s House Freedom Caucus read. “We ask that our congressional delegation fight against Pelosi’s radical gun control agenda. Gun control is nothing but an attempt to make criminals out of law-abiding Americans!”

While all of the letters express skepticism that gun-friendly Wyoming would ever implement red flag laws if the funding becomes available, the lawmakers are still pushing for Barrasso and Lummis to vote down the bill.

“You may believe your vote on this proposed bill comes at little risk as Wyoming has demonstrated time and again that our legislature would not vote to pass such laws,” the letter from Bouchard and Wharff read. “While that may be true, many other states will not have such resolve.”

Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, did not participate in the group letter that was signed by 20 lawmakers but sent one of his own also urging the U.S. senators to oppose red flag legislation.

“Without clear due process prior to the denial of a basic right under the Bill of Rights, and with unelected government employees in charge of implementing and enforcing the rules and regulations from such legislation, the ability for abuse and the unconstitutional confiscation of firearms from those with legal gun ownership is too great,” the Casper senator’s letter read.

He told the Star-Tribune that he didn’t sign the House and Senate joint letter because he “did not like the tone of the letter and did not offer any alternatives about how to work to make schools safer.”

Instead, Perkins wrote that the tragedies were caused by “mental illness and “emotional conditions” and that the “the protection of our school children” will be the result of “better training, hardening of schools, trained volunteers among school staff and teachers, better mental health services, a more involved student body and community, and a serious look at the psychosis and paranoia from drug abuse, including marijuana.”

Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, signed onto both the Freedom Caucus letter and the one sent by 20 lawmakers.

He also advocated for training and a focus on emotional conditions.

“Bad people would find something to hurt someone with something else,” he said. “Bad people hurt people. What is our best defense for our state? Is it to train and arm our teachers?”

In Wyoming, district employees can already conceal carry on school grounds if authorized by the local school board.

When it comes to the Uvalde shooting, however, Haroldson is skeptical of the circumstances.

“I find it very interesting if you look at all the history that surrounds the young man of the Texas shooting. It didn’t line up. It didn’t make sense. I don’t know any 18-year-old that has $9,000 to go buy two AR15s,” Haroldson started. “I’m just saying something isn’t lining up here. Where is he getting his money, where is the funding coming from to be able to do this stuff? I’m not making a statement on this, but I believe that there are people to fund the demise of the Second Amendment.”

The idea that an outside party funds mass shootings to further an agenda is a common conspiracy theory that’s pushed after mass shootings.

The Uvalde shooting is still under investigation, but there is an abundance of evidence suggesting it was not a false flag attack.

Haroldson also wonders if the family structure contributes to mass shooting events and mentioned that the Uvalde gunman lived with his grandmother.

“We have generations who don’t have fathers, who don’t have mothers, who don’t have a solid structure,” he said. “What happened if that young man had a dad in the mix taking his kid out to shoot?”

“We need to start reestablishing family structure,” he later added.

In the end, the votes of Barrasso and Lummis might not matter.

If they vote against the legislation, tentative tallies show that backers of the Senate gun bill would be able to overcome a filibuster and ultimately pass it.

While Barrasso has not taken a stance, one of the letters took issue with the fact that the Wyoming senator was seen with McConnell when he gave his tentative endorsement.

“Senator Barrasso, you were seen standing by Senator Mitch McConnell as he proclaimed his support for the gun control measures headed to the Senate,” the letter read.

Bouchard, a former gun lobbyist and the founder of the Second Amendment lobbying group, Wyoming Gun Owners, piled on.

“He was seen with a smile on his face as McConnell is saying he’s going to capitulate,” Bouchard said.

Lawmakers also argued guns should not be taken away from law abiding citizens because a small number of people commit gun violence.

“It is clear from our country’s history that those who will obey the laws of this land will do so while armed. Yet, those who will perpetrate evil, will do so with or without arms and when the prior are armed, the latter are meeker,” the House Freedom Caucus letter read. Gun control legislation will not and cannot protect our school children.”

Haroldson and Bouchard agreed.

“Do we make it harder on the guys who haven’t snapped because of the one guy who has snapped?” Bouchard asked.

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