A legislative panel on Wednesday recommended significant changes to a contentious proposal that would allow people with concealed carry permits to take their guns to most public places in Wyoming.
At a packed hearing, the Senate Education Committee endorsed changes that would require approval from local governing bodies before concealed weapons could be brought to any public building or event.
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House Bill 114 now heads to the Senate floor for more debate. The committee advanced it on a 3-2 vote after hearing more than 90 minutes of testimony from high school and college students, school administrators, gun rights advocates and others.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, would allow concealed-carry permit holders to take their weapons to any public event or place, including schools and college campuses — but not courtrooms.
Private businesses and property owners would be allowed to prohibit guns. Wyoming law requires a person to be 21 years old and meet other criteria, such as training with weapons, to obtain a concealed carry permit.
The committee's amendment would require approval from various governing bodies — including local school boards, city and county commissions, college trustees and legislative leaders — before anyone can bring a concealed-carry weapon to a public building or event.
It also imposes other special restrictions, such as prohibiting the carrying of a concealed weapon on college campuses that provide child care services as part of an accredited education program.
Jaggi said he opposes the amendment because it could create a "hodgepodge" situation where one school district allows concealed-carry weapons and a neighboring district doesn't.
"I just don't think this is the original intent of that bill, so what we're doing there I wouldn't feel comfortable with," he said.
Supporters of Jaggi's version of the bill say it would improve public safety by discouraging armed attackers or stopping mass killings sooner.
Opponents say there have been no mass killings in Wyoming, and accidents with guns would be more of a problem than potential attackers.
Both sides invoked school safety in their arguments at Wednesday's hearing.
"If our students do not feel safe and secure, they cannot learn," said Kathy Vetter, president of the Wyoming Education Association.
Christina Giarusso, a University of Wyoming sophomore, said she was a victim of an off-campus assault and believes many people at the school would feel safer with a gun.
Teddy Schueler, another UW student, testified he can't carry a concealed weapon on campus even though he served four years in the Army as a sniper.
Others made their case by offering examples.
"We do know that there are a number of officials who have said they would not officiate high school activities if guns are present," said Brian Farmer of the Wyoming School Boards Association.