- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 23, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming residents could carry concealed guns into legislative hearings and other meetings of public bodies around the state under a bill that cleared the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Sponsor Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, has said he wants lawmakers and others who attend public meetings to be able to defend themselves if an armed criminal comes in seeking to do them harm.

The House voted down an amendment sponsored by Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, that would have allowed local governments to decide not to allow concealed weapons at their meetings.

“This is a simple change, it simply moves the decision as to whether or not folks can bring guns into public meetings and government buildings to the local community,” Pelkey said.

A lawyer, Pelkey noted the state has invested in recent years to enhance courtroom security. Although the bill wouldn’t allow people to carry guns into courtrooms, Pelkey said that many courtrooms are in the same buildings as other government offices.

Kroeker urged people to vote down Pelkey’s proposed amendment. “This is really a huge step backward for gun rights if this amendment passes,” he said.

Kroeker said it’s vital that gun laws remain consistent throughout the state. It would be confusing, he said, to permit a patchwork throughout the state where concealed carry is allowed at some public meetings and prohibited at others. He said people who inadvertently violated prohibitions could find themselves guilty of a felony.

Rep. Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs, said he supports local control with the exception of infringing on fundamental rights. “Do the local municipalities want control, and pre-emption, over our First Amendment rights as well?” he asked.

The House adopted an amendment proposed by Baker that would allow the owner to forbid the carrying of concealed weapons on their property.

House Minority Floor Leader Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, said cities and towns have had a variety of local ordinances restricting the carrying of guns since statehood.

Throne, a lawyer, said she’s not aware of any Wyoming Supreme Court case invalidating any of those local ordinances. Said that maintaining local control is constitutional “until someone tells us it’s not.”

The House passed the bill by a vote of 50-to-10. It now goes to the Senate.

The House last year approved a bill that would have allowed concealed carry of guns on school campuses and other public buildings, including legislative hearings. The billed died in the Senate.

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