CHEYENNE — Some Wyoming lawmakers are pushing to pre-empt any federal crackdown on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in the aftermath of last month’s school shooting in Connecticut.
A bill pending in the Wyoming Legislature would specify that any federal limitation on guns would be unenforceable. It also would make it a state felony for federal agents to try to enforce restrictions.
The bill comes as Vice President Joe Biden is set to deliver gun-control proposals to President Barack Obama on Tuesday. Obama has said reducing gun violence is a top priority following the massacre of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school.
Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, is the bill’s main sponsor. Seven others in the Wyoming House and two state senators have also signed on as sponsors out of 90 total state lawmakers.
Kroeker said Thursday he expects Washington will push its current gun-control effort as far as it can. The Obama administration has made it clear it’s considering proposals including a ban on sales of assault weapons, limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines and universal background checks for gun buyers.
“I think there are a lot of people who would want to take all of our guns if they could,” Kroeker said. “And they’re only restrained by the opposition of the people, and other lawmakers who are concerned about our rights.”
Kroeker said it’s clear to him that Wyoming has authority to make it a crime for federal agents to try to enforce a federal gun ban in the state. He noted state resistance to illegal federal measures dates back to opposition to the federal Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.
“We’re a sovereign state with our own constitutional form of government,” Kroeker said. “We’ve got a right to make our laws, and if the federal government is going to try to enforce unconstitutional laws on our people and take away the rights of Wyoming citizens, then we as a state are going to step up and make that a crime.”
Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, is a co-sponsor of the bill. He said Thursday his constituents are “absolutely terrified” of the prospect of federal gun restrictions.
Hicks said Wyoming legislators are getting emails from all over the country in support of the bill. He said many residents of other states are saying they intend to urge their own legislators to follow suit.
“Even if Congress doesn’t do this, given the statements from the President, they will surely try to restrict firearms ownership through executive order,” Hicks said. “I think that’s the biggest threat we’re facing.”
Although Wyoming has one of the highest rates of per-capita firearms ownership of any state, it’s also among the lowest in gun violence.
“Part of it’s our culture,” Hicks said. “Our kids grow up around firearms, and they also grow up hunting, and they know what the consequences are of taking a life. And they know at an early age, whether you hunt or fish, that there’s consequences from pulling that trigger. We’re not insulated from the real world in Wyoming.”
Rep. James Byrd, D-Cheyenne, said he’s opposed to the legislation. “If you want to pick a fight with the feds, let’s pick a fight with the feds that’s about something that means something,” he said.
Byrd said he believes that if Wyoming passes the bill into law, it will lose in the federal courts.
While Byrd said he’s an adamant supporter of the Second Amendment, he said of the bill’s sponsors, “These are the same people that want a gun in everybody’s pocket all the way down to the cradle.”