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EDITORIAL: Guns in schools? Locals should be the ones to decide

Should guns be allowed in the Wapiti school — or any K-12 school in Wyoming?

Up until last month, that question didn’t draw much debate or interest beyond the Cowboy State. But when Betsy DeVos, nominee for secretary of education, said she imagined the Wapiti school had a gun to fend off grizzly bears, major national news outlets suddenly started calling the Cody school district, seeking to verify or debunk DeVos’s claim.

Of course, locals already knew the answer: There isn’t a gun in the Wapiti school.

But that brings us back to the original question: Should guns be allowed in any Wyoming school? It’s a question Wyoming lawmakers are asking, and their decisions in coming days could open the door for firearms on campuses across the state.

This issue isn’t new in the Wyoming Legislature, nor are many of the arguments. As with any debate involving firearms, emotions often run high and people are deeply divided. If you ask neighbors, friends, co-workers, your child’s teacher or even your family members whether guns should be allowed in public K-12 schools, you’ll likely get a range of responses.

That’s why we believe the answer shouldn’t come from the state level; it should be up to local school districts to decide.

House Bill 194 would give school boards the authority to allow employees to possess firearms, if they have a valid concealed carry permit and approval from the local board of trustees. The Wyoming House of Representatives passed the measure with a 46-14 vote on Wednesday. It now goes to the Senate.

For small schools in remote locations — Wapiti, Meeteetse and Ten Sleep, to name a few — we understand why local school boards want to authorize certain employees to carry guns on campus. It’s a matter of school safety, especially when it may take law enforcement a long time to reach an isolated school.

“It may not be the right decision for certain school districts,” Cody school district superintendent Ray Schulte told The Associated Press last month. “But when you’re in rural areas and you’re maybe 15 or 20 or 30 minutes away from anybody who could respond to an event, it does make sense that you might have somebody on staff who is armed and able to respond to an emergency.”

We agree, and hope lawmakers take the vulnerability of rural schools into consideration as they vote on the proposed legislation.

However, we do not believe that every school district in Wyoming should be forced to allow guns on their campuses. Local school boards, especially those with police officers nearby, may decide they do not want any employees — or anyone else, for that matter — to bring guns into schools.

We also believe colleges and local governments should have the authority to decide whether firearms are brought into their facilities. Two separate bills — HB 136 and HB 137 — propose to allow people with concealed carry permits to bring guns on campuses and into government meetings. Just as with K-12 school boards, local elected boards should be the ones to make those decisions.

Figuring out when and where to draw the line on gun rights is difficult, but it’s understandable why some are worried about guns near a kindergarten classroom or at an intense competition between rivals. We also understand why councilmen or college professors could be concerned about having guns in their meetings or classrooms.

As state lawmakers consider where guns should be allowed, it’s important to share your thoughts with local legislators. Given the fact that many Wyomingites own a gun, we know it’s an issue people are passionate about here; for our part, we think that final decision should come at the local level and not from Washington, D.C., or Cheyenne.

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