In 2010, the Wyoming Legislature passed the Wyoming Firearms Freedom Act. In 2011, they approved concealed carry without a permit. Before discussing one of the gun issues for the 2013 session—silencers—note the front page of today’s Casper Star Tribune: “Casper Police: Nail salon customer packs heat, gunman leaves.” In brief, a man was drawing a gun, presumably to rob the nail salon, and a customer drew first. The gunman retreated. The Trib editorial board strongly opposed the concealed carry bill two years ago. Of course there’s plenty we don’t know about this recent incident—like whether the armed patron had a now-optional permit or not—but concealed carry has only hit the Trib’s front page with good news like this since the law went into effect in July 2011.
But no matter how good things go with our rights-first approach to firearms here in Wyoming, the opposition remains dug in. Their latest boogeyman is now lurking in the quickly-growing 2013 General Session bills index as House Bill 5 from the Travel Committee—“Silencers, suppressors and automatic weapons while hunting.”
First, the bill would revise the prohibition on hunting with automatic weapons to specifically restrict killing wildlife with such weapons. Currently, possession of an automatic weapon “in the game fields or forests of Wyoming” is prohibited entirely, a possible hang-up for those who like target shooting and the like. Next, the bill revises Wyoming law to create a “high misdemeanor” in the use of a silencer to (1) kill certain game animals without a permit, (2) engage in “wanton destruction” of big game animals,(3) hunt on public roads, highways or private land without permission, or (4) “Tak[e] . . . a big or trophy game animal out of season.” Otherwise, if it passes the law will allow the use of silencers for hunting so long as hunters have the right permits.
In September already WyoFile’s cartoonist weighed in with a strange cartoon comparing hunting with a silencer to being a Prohibition-era gangster. I think the cartoon has far more bearing on the union opposition to right-to-work legislation happening today in Michigan (“silencers,” indeed), but I digress. Around the same time, the progressive block over in Jackson Hole weighed in with its typical humility and tact. However, there has been little commentary since September on either side of the debate. Now that the proposed bill is available and the 2013 session just a few weeks away, things will probably heat up.
Since I’m not a hunter, I have nothing to say about the merits of hunting with a silencer. As far as the legal aspects, those may—and should—be the reason this won’t become a big issue. House Bill 5 still requires hunting permits, creates new misdemeanors for violating laws with a silencer, and does nothing to challenge federal law. (Silencers are not part of the opposition created in Wyoming’s Firearms Freedom Act.) Federal law requires extensive background checks and taxes to own a silencer, so they are hard to get unless one is ready to put forth a lot of time, effort and money to wade through the paperwork. Silencers are not covered by the cash-and-carry freedom we have with private sales. In short, there are more than enough legal restrictions in place to ensure legally owned silencers are not abused.
But reality seldom hinders the anti-gun movement, so that may be wishful thinking. For now, the boogeyman is still under the bed, but with enough imagination the anti-gun crowd may bring him out this session.