CHEYENNE — A Wyoming legislative committee on Wednesday recommended watering down a pending bill that would threaten federal officials with criminal sanctions if they tried to enforce any future federal assault weapons ban in the state.
As approved by the House, the bill would specify that any federal ban on assault weapons or high-capacity ammunition magazines wouldn’t be valid in Wyoming. It states that any federal officials who tried to enforce a ban would be guilty of a misdemeanor.
Several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee said they were concerned the bill was unconstitutional. An analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Service Office has noted that the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes federal laws as the supreme law of the land.
Gov. Matt Mead has said he has constitutional concerns about the original bill.
The amendment the Senate committee endorsed would strip out the possible penalties against federal officials. Instead, it would specify that state law enforcement officers generally wouldn’t assist in implementing any federal ban unless officers or the public were in immediate danger.
In addition, the Senate amendment would call on the Wyoming Attorney General to defend citizens’ gun rights. The bill and the amendment now head to the Senate floor. Any differences between the final Senate and House versions would have to be resolved in a later conference committee.
Sponsor Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, said he was disappointed in the committee action and will work to try to restore the bill.
“The purpose of the bill was to draw a line in the sand and push back at the federal government’s overreach,” Kroeker said. “They basically said, ‘we’re going to let the federal government do whatever they want, we’re just not going to help them.’ I think it completely went against the intent of the bill.”
Committee Chairman Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, said he didn’t want to put Wyoming law enforcement officers in the middle of the dispute between the state and federal governments. “I’m with you heart and soul on delivering a message,” he said.
Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta, sponsored the amendment to remove the language about imposing criminal sanctions against federal officers.
A former lawman and military veteran, Christensen said the bill as passed by the House could put lawmen in an untenable situation as their oath of office requires them to support and defend the U.S. Constitution.
President Barack Obama has called for reinstituting a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in the aftermath of December’s slaughter of 20 school children in Connecticut by a gunman.
However, Congress appears reluctant so far to address the gun control issue. In his State of the Union address earlier this month, Obama urged Congress to take up the issue, saying the families of Newtown, Conn., and several other communities hit by recent gun violence deserve at least vote on the issue.
Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, has introduced a bill that would outlaw the importation, sale, transfer and possession of new semi-automatic assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Feinstein’s bill, the only pending federal gun control legislation, would not ban possession of assault weapons in private hands at the time the federal legislation were enacted.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also advanced another House gun bill on Wednesday, a measure which would strengthen existing prohibition in state law against local governments enacting their own gun control measures. The committee approved an amendment to exempt the University of Wyoming as well as Wyoming community colleges and the state’s K-12 school system.