CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A bill that Wyoming lawmakers say could block possible federal restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines cleared its first state legislative committee hearing on Tuesday. However, the prospects of the bill becoming law remained murky.
The non-partisan Legislative Service Office has issued a legal analysis that stops short of passing final judgment on the bill but notes that the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes federal laws as the supreme law of the land.
"When there is a conflict between a state law or constitution and a constitutional federal law, the federal law trumps or pre-empts the state law," the analysis states.
Nonetheless, the House Judiciary Committee voted 8-1 to advance the bill. It also advanced a separate bill that would allow licensed citizens to carry concealed guns on school and college campuses.
The bill aimed at pre-empting possible federal gun restrictions would impose state felony penalties on U.S. officials who attempt to enforce any new bans on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. The bill now goes to the full state House for consideration.
Last month's killing of 20 elementary school children in Connecticut prompted President Barack Obama to call for a new federal assault weapons ban. The last such ban, which expired in 2004, prohibited the manufacture of new assault weapons but didn't affect those already in private hands.
The prospect of new federal gun control measures has reverberated through the ranks of the nation's gun owners in recent weeks.
Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, is the main sponsor of the bill that seeks to exempt Wyoming from any federal ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.
Speaking after the vote, he said it's possible the bill will be amended to specify that federal employees who try to enforce a ban would face only misdemeanor, not felony, charges.
"I have been just overwhelmed by the national response I've received," Kroeker said. "I've received hundreds of emails from out of state people, saying things like 'I'm considering moving to Wyoming because you take our freedoms seriously.'"
Kroeker said the bill could be a boon for Wyoming's economy if the federal government implements a ban.
"Maybe we'll have some firearms manufacturers relocate to the state where they're allowed to make their existing arms," he said.
Scores of people in the committee room stood to show their support for the bill while no one in the audience spoke against it.
Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, cast the only vote in committee against the bill. She said she has concerns about the state's constitutional standing to try to block federal agents from enforcing federal law.
"What we're doing with this bill is attempting to pre-empt the federal Constitution," she said.
In response, bill supporter Rep. Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs, noted that other states are considering similar legislation. "So if there is a challenge, we're not going to be alone in this," he said.
The Judiciary Committee endorsed a separate bill Tuesday that would allow Wyoming citizens who hold concealed carry permits to have guns on public school and college campuses. Several supporters testified that only immediate intervention by trained, armed adults can stop an active shooter situation at a school.
Wyoming changed its law in 2011 to allow citizens to carry concealed guns in most places without a permit. The permits require citizens to undergo law enforcement background checks and demonstrate that they're proficient with firearms.
Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, sponsored the bill to lift the prohibition on carrying guns on public school grounds. A former teacher, he said he's been concerned about recent violence on school campuses.
Connolly also cast the only vote in committee against the bill to allow guns on school campuses.