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Legislators review legal shield for National Guard members who use deadly force to protect property

A brick building with the words "Wyoming National Guard" on the front of it.
Chris Clements
/
Wyoming Public Media
The Wyoming National Guard office in Laramie on June 7.

Wyoming lawmakers in the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee are considering drafting a bill that would shield Wyoming National Guard members who use deadly force in the course of their jobs if it’s to protect certain military equipment.

At an interim committee meeting in Rock Springs this week, Wyoming military officials said it’s possible guardsmen may need to use deadly force to stop equipment, like military aircraft, from being stolen.

Currently, National Guard members who shoot on sight to protect property could later be charged with murder under Wyoming law.

Chris Smith, senior counsel for the Wyoming Military Department, says part of what prompted discussion of the potential law, which would give guardsmen more legal cover if they use force in the course of their jobs, are the aircraft stored at the Cheyenne Regional Airport and Francis E. Warren Air Force Base.

“After 9/11, we learned very dramatically that airplanes are weapons,” said Smith. “So protecting airplanes, for example, is a priority for security forces members on the air side.”

As an example, Smith pointed to Wyoming Air National Guard security officers who protect assets like the 153rd Airlift Wing’s C-130 aircraft. Those officers are considered state employees, he said, and aren’t protected by Wyoming statute if they use force.

“Even if someone second-guesses them and says, ‘Well, you could’ve ran up to them and restrained them, you didn’t have to shoot them,’ as long as it’s reasonable, I want to protect our members because they’re doing the best they can,” Smith said.

According to the Legislative Service Office, Montana is the only other state with a similar law. It passed its Legislature in 2023.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

Chris Clements is a state government reporter and digital media specialist for Wyoming Public Media based in Laramie. He came to WPM from KSJD Radio in Cortez, Colorado, where he reported on Indigenous affairs, drought, and local politics in the Four Corners region. Before that, he graduated with a degree in English (Creative Writing) from Arizona State University. Chris's news stories have been featured on KUNC, NPR newscasts, and National Native News, among others.
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