Gun reporting bill fails in 9-5 vote

By Nick Reynolds, Casper Star-Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange
Posted 11/5/19

Wyoming lawmakers on Thursday defeated legislation that would have prevented some people with mental illnesses from buying guns.

The legislation would have required the Wyoming Division of …

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Gun reporting bill fails in 9-5 vote


Wyoming lawmakers on Thursday defeated legislation that would have prevented some people with mental illnesses from buying guns.

The legislation would have required the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation to submit certain mental health records to a federal database used for background checks while purchasing firearms.

The bill, which failed by a 9-5 vote, essentially mirrored federal legislation signed into law by President Donald Trump in the 2018 budget.

Introduced in the wake of a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, the legislation — entitled “Fix NICS” — was intended to capture people with severe mental illnesses who might otherwise be missed by the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check System: a seemingly easy fix for those who say that mental illness, not access to guns, is the main driver behind mass shootings in the United States.

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Wyoming is currently last in the nation in terms of the number of disqualifying mental health records submitted per capita. To date, authorities in Wyoming have provided such records 13 times.

However, many argued the bill unfairly stigmatizes mental illness and could have been a precursor to a “Red Flag Law,” which allows law enforcement to intervene and seize someone’s firearms if, for instance, the owner could present an immediate danger to themselves or others — a process critics say robs gun owners of due process.

During the summer, hardline Second Amendment groups like Wyoming Gun Owners began rallying against the legislation. Gun rights supporters said such laws could lay the groundwork for government-sponsored gun seizures.

Some in Wyoming — like Sheridan-based mental health expert Paul Demple — criticized the Fix NICS legislation as a law based on fear, rather than fact. Demple told the Sheridan Press in August that the bill is based on a “pervasive and misleading national rhetoric that all mentally ill people are dangerous.”

Others argued the language of the bill was overly broad, and could open the door for more restrictive regulations.

However, the legislation would have provided a process for people otherwise banned from purchasing guns to appeal that ruling — a right blacklisted gun owners lack under current federal law.

“Technically, they now have fewer gun rights,” Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, wrote in a text message. “If you are honest when you buy a gun, you will be turned down. Right now, you don’t have the right to appeal your mental health status.”

The final vote was sharply divided between the House and Senate: Von Flatern was the only senator who voted for the bill, while Democratic Reps. Charles Pelkey and Sara Burlingame and Republican Reps. Bill Pownall, Clark Stith and Dan Kirkbride voted aye. No votes included Sen. R.J. Kost, a Powell Republican, along with Sens. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton, Brian Boner and Tara Nethercott and Reps. Chuck Gray, Mark Jennings, Tim Salazar and Art Washut.

“This bill would have created a procedure where someone could lose their gun rights simply by reaching out for counseling,” Gray said in a statement. “This bill would have not only compromised our personal liberty, it would have discouraged people from seeking professional help for their problems.”

Testimony on the bill lasted several hours, with feedback from groups ranging from the state’s judicial branch to the National Rifle Association.

“There were just too many questions, and it was much too complicated to move forward with,” said Boner. He added that, “The idea is to protect gun manufacturers and gun dealers from lawsuits. You could be just more straightforward and exempt them from liability.”