CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Gov. Matt Mead says he has concerns with bills pending in the Wyoming Legislature that would seek to exempt the state from any new federal ban on assault weapons while allowing teachers and parents to bring guns into schools.
President Barack Obama has called for reinstituting a federal assault weapons ban following the massacre of 20 Connecticut first-graders by a gunman late last year. Although there are no new restrictions so far, the prospect of a coming ban has driven up gun prices and sparked a national shortage of ammunition and reloading supplies.
A bill has cleared the Wyoming House and is pending in the state Senate that would seek to exempt the state from any new federal ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. It also would make it a misdemeanor for federal officials to seek to enforce them.
Another House bill, also now pending in the Senate, would lift the prohibition on carrying guns on school grounds for teachers, parents and guardians who have state-issued concealed carry permits. Supporters say that arming responsible adults is the only way to protect Wyoming schools from any similar attack.
Mead, a Republican and former federal prosecutor, told reporters Tuesday that his bona fides as a gun owner are beyond reproach. He said he's a life member of the National Rifle Association and owns some of the firearms that could be banned.
"And I don't like the sort of national message that I hear occasionally that that's somehow wrong, if you're the owner of those guns you're somehow on the shady side of things, because I don't think that's true in Wyoming," Mead said. "One of the things that I think is a hallmark of Wyoming is that we're a gun state, and our gun owners are lawful owners of guns, and do it in a responsible way."
Mead also said he understands also that the slaughter of children in Connecticut was heartbreaking. "No parent should have to go through that," he said. "As a parent with kids in school, it scares me to death, it does."
Critics say the bill, sponsored by Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, that would seek to exempt Wyoming from any new federal assault weapons ban would be unconstitutional. An analysis by the Legislature's non-partisan Legislative Service Office notes the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes federal laws as the supreme law of the land.
Mead said he's talked to some in the Legislature who say they want to pass the bill nonetheless to send a message to federal officials. However, he said he's told them that the way to send a message is to pass a resolution, write a letter or hold a press conference.
"But I don't like the idea of having a law that is on the books that we know going in is unenforceable," Mead said. "Because I may think that, but does the sheriff down the street think that? Does the police officer think that?"
Mead said he's also concerned about the provision of the law that would try to ban federal officials from enforcing any gun ban in Wyoming. "How do you ask a federal judge or a juror to not enforce the laws?" he said, adding that having a sheriff's deputy trying to arrest an FBI agent would create problems.
Mead said he's created a task force to address what Wyoming can do to improve school security without treading on constitutional rights. He said the group is looking into what it would cost to put armed school resource officers into schools.
He also said he's talked to teachers who were very concerned about the prospect of wearing guns, or having other teachers wear them in schools.
Wyoming law prevents Mead from threatening to veto any legislation. However, he said he's made his concerns known to legislative leaders.
"I think that the way the President and some back in Congress have approached this is the wrong way. I think it has stirred up unnecessarily a lot of problems," Mead said. "You can't buy shells. You have trouble buying your .22. And it's caused this turmoil. But on the other hand, I don't want to act in the same way. I want us to say, 'listen, we're a proud gun state and we're going to act in a rational way."