- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The Wyoming Senate on Wednesday voted down a bill that would have allowed people who hold concealed weapons permits to carry guns onto school campuses and into many public buildings.

The Senate voted 25-to-3 to defeat the bill, which already had passed in the House.

As approved by the House, the bill would have allowed people with concealed carry permits to carry guns in all schools and most public buildings around the state.

Sponsors of the original bill have said that eliminating gun-free zones in the state would improve public safety. They say mass killers who have shot up schools and other public places in other states are attracted to locations where they know their victims will be unarmed.

The Senate amended the bill earlier this week to specify that local boards and local governing bodies could decide on their own whether to allow guns.

Many senators expressed concern as they considered the bill this week that merely having a concealed carry permit didn’t necessarily mean that a person had the necessary skills and training to defend themselves and others with a gun in a crowded school setting.

Some senators also said they were concerned about not trampling on the rights of parents who might want to have their children defended at school only by certified law enforcement officers.

Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, is chairman of the Senate Education Committee and pushed the substitute to the House bill that would have given local schools and government entities the option whether to allow guns. In the end, Coe wound up voting against even that approach.

“I felt the dialogue was very important,” Coe said after the vote. “The House sent us a bill that was not going to pass down here.”

As it came from the House, Coe said the bill would have been a mandate from the Legislature to elected officials around the state, telling them, “Hey, we know what’s best for you.”

Coe said that he expects the Legislature will consider the issue again, and he expects it will have to address the level of training that will be required in order to carry a gun on a school campus.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs; Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Crowley; and Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, voted in favor of the bill.

Speaking after the vote, Peterson said he believes that advertising schools and other places as gun-free zones puts Wyoming children in danger.

“I was in favor of giving it to local control, local boards to decide for themselves especially in some of these local schools that are some distance away from law enforcement response,” Peterson said. “I thought that if we gave that opportunity to local boards to make that decision, perhaps training and certifying some of their staff to have access to a gun in a locked box somewhere on school premises would be a pretty good solution.”

Scott said he believes the state needs to give rural areas the flexibility to address the circumstances of their security needs. He also said he favored establishing in the law that people who have the right to own guns could keep them locked up in their cars on school campuses.

Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, had spoken in favor of the bill earlier this week, noting that Utah has allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons for years at schools there.

Meier said Wednesday he believes that supporters of allowing guns in schools in Wyoming are going to have to work to educate people about the dangers of gun-free zones if similar legislation is to pass in the future.

“I think we’re going to have to be more inclusive with the local government authorities, and we’re also going to have to look at some training, so that people feel a lot more comfortable,” Meier said.

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