Wyo. Lawmakers Fear Western Issues Absent in Gun Debate

Mar 8, 2013

In the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting there’s been an increase in calls for gun control in Washington. Matt Laslo reports the Wyoming congressional delegation fears the entire debate is leaving out western issues.  

MATT LASLO: There might not be a more sensitive issue in politics than guns and the second amendment. That may be why the assault weapons ban lapsed in 2004 and then hasn’t really been debated in Congress since. But the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut changed things. Now President Obama is calling for sweeping gun control measures, which Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso says goes too far.

JOHN BARRASSO: There’s a strong belief and commitment to our second amendment rights and we know that involves our individual right to own and bear arms, so the president is promoting  positions that go way beyond that of most Americans.

LASLO:  A part of the president’s proposal is to reinstate the assault weapons ban and to limit the number of rounds one can keep in a clip. Republican Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis says that could have a deadly impact in Wyoming.

CYNTHIA LUMMIS: Sacrificing a tool that can be used for personal safety in a state where the bear population and the wolf population have grown dramatically would be my paramount reason for opposing an assault weapons ban or the ability to pull the trigger repeatedly in one’s own self-defense.

LASLO: Wyoming’s senior Republican senator, Mike Enzi, brushes aside the gun control proposals floating around Washington.

MIKE ENZI:  Hopefully they’ll have something that will take care of violence, because it’s violence that’s the problem. We’re not solving violence.

LASLO: Enzi says gun laws should be left up to states.  

ENZI: If the East Coast wants to do it, let ‘em do it. New York just passed some really crazy gun laws that are going to keep every citizen that wants any personal protection from having any.

LASLO: Wyoming's state legislature debated a number of pro-gun bills during its session and Governor Matt Mead calls Wyoming a gun friendly state. But Enzi says guns are misunderstood by many in Washington.

ENZI: Well, the whole anticipation out here on the East Coast is that the only thing you use guns for is to kill people. They don’t take into consideration hunting or just target shooting.  

LASLO: Virginia Democrat Jim Moran supports the president’s gun control proposal, but he has also introduced legislation of his own called the “NRA Members’ Gun Safety Act.” It includes provisions like universal background checks and banning anyone on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun. Polls have shown that a majority of gun owners support these provisions...

JIM MORAN:  We ought to have minimal standards for canceled weapons permits such as being an adult. We ought to require that your gun be reported within 48 hours if it is lost or stolen. Things like that more than 2/3rds of NRA members support. So we could at least get that through, particularly the background checks.

LASLO:  But before debate even got rolling on the gun issue, President Obama decided to sign twenty three executive orders. Some deal with mental health issues while others attempt to improve reporting data from states and place it into a federal database. Many Republicans, like Congresswoman Lummis, aren’t happy with the president’s action.

LUMMIS3 I expect lawsuits. I expect to be on the side of those who question his authority as an executive without legislation.

LASLO:  There does seem to be bipartisan support for taking further steps to address mental health issues, which gun advocates say is the only common thread in recent mass shootings. Lummis says she may be able to support legislation focused on that limited issue.

LUMMIS:  I believe that we should be looking specifically at the issues involving the developmentally disabled and mentally ill in a more serious manner.

LASLO:  But Lummis says Congress needs more information before it acts.

LUMMIS4 We need to understand where the states are with regard to their work on those [mental health] issues.

LASLO: And Senator Enzi cautions that even on mental health issues, Congress needs to tread lightly.

ENZI2 We should not put the stigma of violence on everybody that has any kind of a mental health problem.

LASLO:  While this Congress is spending more energy on gun issues than any in the recent past, it’s still unclear if lawmakers will find enough points of agreement to pass any gun legislation this session.

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Matt Laslo in Washington.