A bill to allow individuals with concealed carry permits to carry guns on the University of Wyoming’s campus and community colleges was defeated this week by the State Senate. Those in support of the legislation say it would have made campuses safer, while those opposed to it worried about potential dangers.
Gillette Representative Scott Clem said the campus carry bill is about arming the good guys. “When you have a gun free zone, what that signals to society is that law-abiding citizens are going to obey the law,” said Clem. “But it has no effect whatsoever on a mad man...bent on hurting people. A sign isn’t gonna' stop a madman, a gun free zone sign." He further added, “What you end up doing is disarming innocent people who could otherwise defend themselves.”
Clem was one of many who supported the bill for one simple fact — they believed that it would make campuses across the state safe. The other piece is that many gun owners felt that the colleges were infringing on their Second Amendment Rights.
Cheyenne Senator Anthony Bouchard ran his campaign as a serious gun-rights advocate, and is serving his first term in the Wyoming Legislature this session. He said they purposely required those who want to carry on campuses to get a concealed carry permit. That’s due to the background checks and other requirements that permit holders must go through.
“Permit carriers are actually a more trusted segment of society than even law enforcement,” according to Bouchard, “because the law abiding citizens tend to be law abiding citizens. And that’s why they signed up to get a permit and send their fingerprints in.”
One concern with the campus carry bill was the fact that guns would have been allowed at sporting events. The University of Wyoming’s Board of Trustees recently approved the sale of beer and wine at football and basketball games, and the combination of guns and alcohol worried many. But Ranchester Representative Bo Biteman pointed out that the concern was overblown due to one simple fact. He said, “If you’re drinking and have your concealed carry, you’re breaking the law.”
In other words, it’s illegal for someone carrying a concealed weapon to consume alcohol. The other worry involved suicide. University of Wyoming Psychology Professor Carolyn Pepper said for young people, the Wyoming suicide rate is twice the national average. “This is the age when we see the onset of serious mental illness, particularly depression,” which Pepper said is her specialty.
In 2014, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Wyoming fourth on a list of states with the highest overall gun death rates.
Pepper said if guns can be kept away from students, it could reduce the suicide risk on Wyoming’s campuses. Wyoming Gun Owners Association’s Michelle Sabrosky said she sees the issue differently. “Maybe we should be looking into why kids on the University of Wyoming campus are so sad that they want to end their lives,” Sabrosky said, “instead of trying to disarm them.”
Sabrosky has a daughter that takes classes at Casper College. She said allowing guns on campuses would address another serious issue. “We have girls that are victimized on college campuses, across this country and in this state, every day.” She argued that, “we have disarmed those girls and told them that they cannot protect themselves.”
Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault’s Tara Muir said sexual assaults on campus should not be used as a reason to arm students. “College women are typically assaulted by someone they know, usually a friend, a classmate, star of the football or basketball team.” Muir explained that, “even if they had access to their gun, they would rarely be tempted to use it.”
The other concern is that allowing guns in a classroom or around campus could inspire violence from a stressed out student or someone else, but supporters of the legislation said that a number of campuses, including state schools in Colorado and Utah allow campus carry and said that there have been virtually no issues.
Supporters of the legislation were disappointed by the Senate vote, but they plan to try again. In the meantime, two bills are still alive.
House Bill 194 will allow K-12 school boards to designate which school district employees can carry a concealed weapon on school property, and House Bill 137 will allow individuals with concealed carry permits to bring a gun to government meetings.