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Senator kills weapons bill, says gun group's tactics went too far

Feb 24, 2013 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- A leader in the Wyoming State Senate said Friday that he killed a bill that sought to exempt the state from any future federal assault weapons ban because of rude pressure tactics from a pro-gun organization.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Sen. Phil Nicholas, a Laramie Republican who controls which bills get a hearing, didn't bring up the assault weapons bill or a companion anti-gun control bill by Friday's deadline. Both bills already had cleared the House.

Nicholas said he believes the bills were intentionally poorly drafted. He said lawmakers who opposed or tried to amend them were targeted for personal criticism by the Wyoming Gun Owners Association, which he said tried raise funds from the controversy.

Association Director Anthony Bouchard said he disagreed with Nicholas, and that the bills were a legitimate effort to try to protect gun rights in the state.

Bouchard said a Senate committee earlier this week had amended the assault weapons bill into a form that was nothing near the House version. "It looks like just a cover story to me," he said of Nicholas's criticism.

Nicholas said lawmakers had received hundreds of emails on the bills, many apparently prompted by the association. He distributed copies of postings from the association's Facebook page in which people had posted criticism of Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta.

Christensen, a former Wyoming lawman, had proposed amending the assault weapons bill at a committee hearing this week to remove language specifying that any federal officials who sought to enforce a federal ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines in the state would be guilty of a misdemeanor.

One of the postings on the association's Facebook page gave what it claimed was Christensen's home telephone number and suggested supports to flood his home with calls "to get our point across."

Nicholas, a lawyer, told reporters that "sooner or later, you have to say that outrageous conduct, mean conduct, has no place in Wyoming politics."

The nonpartisan Legislative Service Office wrote an analysis questioning the constitutionality of the assault weapons bill, pointing out that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that federal law trumps state statutes.

"They were designed to be polarizing, not to protect the Second Amendment," Nicholas said of the bills. He emphasized that he's a gun owner and strong supporter of gun rights.

Republican Gov. Matt Mead, himself a lawyer and a gun owner, has said he had concerns about the constitutionality of the assault weapons bill.

Nicholas said he believes that the legislators who were the bills' primary sponsors were trying to grandstand "and isolate their patriotism as though somehow they're more patriotic and more supportive of the Second Amendment than others."

Rep. Kendell Kroeker, the Evansville Republican who sponsored the assault weapons bill, said "I don't agree that the bill was written as a fundraiser."

"The bill was written to draw a line and push back at the federal government and tell them that we're not going to tolerate unconstitutional laws and we're not going to allow those to be enforced in our state," Kroeker said. "And I guess it's sad that the Senate didn't feel that protecting those rights was as important as we felt it was, and as important as I believe the citizens feel it is."

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Legislature, Wyoming