Despite warning from NRA, Wyoming Senate guts immunity provision in ‘stand your ground’ bill

March 2, 2018 in News by Slad

Source: Trib.com | Arno Rosenfeld 307-266-0634, arno.rosenfeld@trib.com

 

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Senate gutted a so-called “stand your ground” bill that sought to provide initial immunity from arrest and prosecution for assault or murder to anyone who claimed self-defense.

In a contentious vote Tuesday, the Senate removed the immunity provision and brought the measure inline with current Wyoming law, which allows individuals to use force in self-defense but only if doing so is reasonable. Prosecutors may still bring charges against someone who claims to have acted in self-defense if law enforcement believes the more reasonable option would have been to retreat or de-escalate the situation.

“It’s very, very close to what Wyoming law is now,” Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, said of the amended bill. “You have the obligation to do as a reasonable man would.”

The original measure would have stated that individuals never had a duty to retreat when feeling threatened, even if a jury or prosecutor believed that doing so would have been the best option. Police would have been prohibited from arresting or detaining anyone who had acted in self-defense. The Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police came out in opposition to that provision, noting it would be difficult for an officer to determine in the heat of the moment whether a suspect was legitimately defending him or herself.

Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, opposed the change to the bill, arguing that it effectively stripped it of protections for innocent people who act to defend themselves. Bouchard warned his colleagues against voting for the amendment.

“National organizations are watching this bill and are watching how this moves forward,” Bouchard said. “It’s going to have consequences.”

Lawmakers are not allowed to name groups during floor debates, but Wyoming Gun Owners and the National Rifle Association sent notes to senators prior to the vote opposing the amendment.

A note sent to Sen. John Hastert, D-Green River, on Tuesday from lobbyists from the National Rifle Association and Wyoming Gun Owners. It warned that a proposed amendment to the “stand your ground” bill that the Senate was considering would be scored as “anti-gun.”

“Senator — Pls note that both NRA + WYGO will score the amendment as an anti-gun vote + will report it as such to our members, Pls oppose it,” read a note sent to Sen. John Hastert, D-Green River, from NRA state liaison Travis Couture-Lovelady and Aaron Dorr of Wyoming Gun Owners. Hastert said it was similar to the notes sent to all senators.

“People felt intimidated,” Hastert said in an interview. “I’ve never had a note like that before.”

Couture-Lovelady said he was not allowed to speak to the media. The NRA did not respond to a request for comment made through its website.

Perkins, who sponsored the amendment, said that he would not be cowed by the gun lobbyists.

“You know what, I’m not pulling this amendment,” Perkins said. “I told myself a long time ago that I was going to come down here and do what I thought was right, whether a special interest group thought I was right or not.”

Perkins’ amendment passed 22-8. Voting against the changes were Sens. Wyatt Agar, Paul Barnard, Leeland Christensen, Ogden Driskill, Curt Meier, Glenn Moniz, R. Ray Peterson and Bouchard, all Republicans.

Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said that consideration of the note, including Bouchard’s reference to it, violated Senate rules and called on his colleagues to back the amendment on principle.

“These notes are in violation of our obligation to debate fairly without any duress,” Kinskey said.

While advocates of the bill acknowledged that Wyoming law currently allowed individuals to defend themselves, they said that without the immunity protections people who do so could spend years going through the legal process.

Dorr, with Wyoming Gun Owners, said the changes made to the Senate bill weakened its protections for law-abiding people who are forced to defend themselves. He said that while some good points remained in the legislation, the group was waiting to see a final version before taking a position on the amended bill.

“Our members are very concerned about the criminal immunity protection,” Dorr said. “We don’t want to have a gun owner bankrupted by the criminal process just because he had to use a firearm in self-defense.”

After passing the amendment that included the major changes to the bill and rejecting another more minor one, the Senate approved the stand your ground bill and moved it onto third reading. If it passes on third reading, it will be sent to the House for consideration.

The House is considering its own “stand your ground” measure, which closely matches Bouchard’s original bill. It chose to postpone consideration of its version until Wednesday.