Over 999,000 readers this year!

Glocks in the Capitol? Pistols on playgrounds? Wyoming looks to ban gun-free zones

A prohibition against gun bans in governmental facilities with few exceptions is breezing through the Legislature. Representatives in the House shot down efforts to retain local control.

The Wyoming Capitol building during the Wyoming Legislature's 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Imagine a world where state capitol buildings are filled with lawmakers who spend their days making motions, introducing amendments and making impassioned speeches — all while packing heat. 

It’s a world — where senators and representatives have firearms strapped underneath their daily garb — that the Wyoming Legislature is potentially moving toward for its 2025 general session. 

Asked how he feels about the prospect of a couple dozen or so concealed handguns on the floor of the Wyoming House of Representatives in the coming legislative session, Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland) offered up one word. 

“Amazing,” he told WyoFile in the hallway of the Capitol Extension building. 

Haroldson, a pastor who’s spearheading the policy change via House Bill 125 – Repeal gun free zones and preemption amendments, said that he’d “absolutely” carry a firearm himself if his measure passes, and that a room full of concealed guns would “absolutely” make him feel safer. Armed lawmakers aren’t a worry, he said, because, “at the end of the day” it’s a matter of “personal responsibility.”

“You could pick up a candy bowl and you could hurt someone with that, too,” Haroldson said. 

Center, Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland) during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

Haroldson’s HB 125, co-sponsored by 16 other right-leaning lawmakers, is not the Legislature’s first stab at banning gun-free zones in government buildings in Wyoming. As recently as the 2023 budget session, lawmakers introduced a bill that sought to prohibit gun-free zones at governmental and legislative meetings. It, like all other previous attempts, did not get far in the legislative process. 

This year’s shot, however, passed the House on Tuesday. Only seven representatives voted against — five of them from the chamber’s small fleet of Democrats — in both its introduction vote and on third and final reading

Haroldson had some theories as to why. 

“I believe that in the past there have been some gun organizations that their goal was not to pass [legislation],” Haroldson said, “their goal was to get coverage in the media.”

Secondly, he said, HB 125 — unlike past bills of the sort — was assigned to a sympathetic committee, House Judiciary, where it received favorable treatment. 

There were 14 amendments as HB 125 navigated its way to House passage, several of them from Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody), who fought to preserve school districts’ authority to regulate concealed firearms in the classrooms and hallways of their public schools. Her home district, Park County School District 6, started its own firearms policy that allows for concealed carry in 2018. 

“My concern is we have an armed, trained staff and now we’re going to allow citizens off the street to come into our schools concealed-carry,” Newsome said on the House floor. “My fear is that one of our teachers will shoot a citizen who comes into our school legally.” 

Uncertainty over who is armed, she said, could have the effect of killing the district’s concealed carry program. 

“My fear is that we will lose the people who are protecting our school children every day,” Newsome said, “because they don’t want that uncertainty.” 

Haroldson opposed Newsome’s attempts to preserve local control. Each amendment got voted down. The Wheatland pastor did, however, push through an amendment that restored school districts’ authority to regulate concealed carry among their own employees — but it does not have any bearing on armed members of the public entering schools.

Another amendment brought by Rep. Art Washut (R-Casper) sought to ensure that governments can continue to prohibit the open-carrying of firearms.

“You can imagine being down here on the floor debating some contentious issue while there’s a bunch of people up here in the gallery standing at port arms with long guns,” Washut said. “I don’t think that’s really about self-defense. The open carry of firearms may in some circumstances be more about political intimidation.”  

Opposing Washut’s amendment, fellow Casper Rep. Jeanette Ward welcomed a world where onlookers could openly display long guns in the House gallery. 

“Constitutional carry doesn’t change based on where you are,” she said. “Constitutional carry means you can conceal carry, open carry, carry on your head, carry on your foot.” 

Speaking on the floor, Haroldson didn’t take a position on the amendment. It passed, excluding open-carrying from a bill that would otherwise upend how concealed firearms are regulated in governmental facilities in Wyoming. 

The bill does not have bearing on private property, but does drastically change where gun bans would be allowed on state, county and town property. The version of House Bill 125 that emerged from the House specifies only a few government spaces where concealed firearms could still be prohibited. 

Exemptions are included for K-12 and collegiate athletic events where alcohol is being sold, and facilities that are run or certified by the Behavioral Health Division of the Wyoming Department of Health and the Wyoming Department of Family Services — which includes facilities like the Wyoming Girls’ School and Boys’ School. Prohibitions would also remain intact where “explosive or volatile materials are present.” 

The legislation does not explicitly exempt legal facilities like courthouses and police stations, but lawmakers supporting HB 125 spoke of those places as examples of where concealed carry could still be prohibited. There is a clause in HB 125 that reads it, “shall not be construed to … Allow the carrying of a concealed weapon into facilities where otherwise prohibited by law.”  

Wyoming wouldn’t be the first state to lift gun-free zones in public places like the State Capitol building if HB 125 were to become law. That’s according to Nephi Cole, a representative for the National Shooting Sports Foundation who testified in the House Judiciary Committee. 

“Just in the region that I work, I can carry a concealed firearm into the capitols in Idaho, into Montana, Utah and Minnesota,” Cole said. 

Advocates of HB 125 have contended that mandating concealed carry be permitted in public spaces like schools could make those areas safer by creating a corps of armed “good guys” who will be at the ready to stop armed “bad guys.” 

“The truth of the matter is any shooting is absolutely horrendous, but when it’s done in a place where people didn’t have the right to defend themselves, I believe it’s a travesty,” Haroldson said in committee. “We are creating soft zones by adding gun-free zones.”

Rep. Ken Chestek (R-Laramie) during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2024 budget session. (Ashton J. Hacke/WyoFile)

That’s an argument that doesn’t pass muster with Rep. Ken Chestek (D-Laramie), who motioned to delete HB 125’s enacting clause — a procedural tactic to kill the bill — just before the House passed the legislation in a 54-7 vote. 

“The question before the body now is whether this bill makes schools safe, or makes them less safe,” Chestek said. “I submit to you that this bill actually makes schools and campuses less safe.” 

“When there are more guns,” he added, “there’s going to be more shooting.” 

House Bill 125 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it would be worked by Sens. Bill Landen (R-Casper), Cale Case (R-Lander), Ed Cooper (R-Ten Sleep), Dan Furphy (R-Laramie) and Wendy Shuler (R-Evanston). As of Thursday afternoon, HB 125 was not appearing in the Senate Judiciary’s calendar on wyoleg.gov, but Haroldson told WyoFile it will be considered on Monday — the last day for bills to be reported out of committee in the second chamber. 

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.