By ROBERT W. BLACK
Associated Press Writer
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A House committee on Wednesday recommended a bill that would liberalize Wyoming's concealed weapons law.
The measure, sent to the House floor 7-2 by the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee, would essentially allow any non-felon to carry a concealed gun without a permit.
''You can carry - simple as that,'' said the sponsor, Rep. Becket Hinckley, R-Cheyenne.
Wyoming would join Alaska and Vermont in not requiring permits for concealed weapons, he said.
Hinckley, a deputy prosecuting attorney, was joined in support by Richard Bohling, Albany County's prosecutor, who said law-abiding citizens sometimes have been convicted of illegally carrying a concealed weapon when they had no intent of breaking the law.
Bohling, holding a notebook bearing a sticker reading, ''I'm the NRA and I vote,'' cited the case of an elderly Missouri man who was found to have had a loaded pistol in his glove box after a rollover.
Bohling said he was forced to prosecute the individual, who was later convicted. The bill would prevent prosecution of people in similar situations who have no ill intent, he said.
However, the bill would apply only to people who have been residents of Wyoming for at least 90 days, so the man in Bohling's example might still have been prosecuted under the law.
The proposal drew fire from law enforcement officials, including Byron Oedekoven, lobbyist for Wyoming's sheriffs and police chiefs, who said the bill could compromise officer safety.
Oedekoven said the existing permitting process allows officials to check whether someone has a substance abuse problem or other impairment that would preclude them from carrying a hidden gun.
Over 11,800 applications have been made for concealed weapons permits and only 190 have been denied, Oedekoven said. If the bill were to pass, those 190 people - and anyone else who wanted to - could legally carry a concealed weapon.
State Attorney General Pat Crank said the system provided a ''public safety check'' for Wyoming residents.
''It's a system that's set up to make sure that people who are out there carrying concealed weapons are reasonable, responsible folks,'' he said.
If the bill were to move forward, Crank recommended it be amended to rescind the permitting process. Two staffers who review permit applications in the Division of Criminal Investigation could be better utilized elsewhere, he said.
''If we're going to let virtually anybody carry a concealed weapon, that's a waste of our time and resources,'' he said.
A provision in the bill would require any person stopped or detained by an officer to immediately reveal if he or she is carrying a concealed weapon.
Lt. Col. Sam Powell, acting administrator of the Wyoming Highway Patrol, said he was not ''overly optimistic'' that the notification would occur, but added that the patrol was neutral on the issue.
Veterans' Affairs Commission Director Don Ewing, speaking as a private citizen, echoed Oedekoven's concern that people who probably shouldn't be carrying weapons would be allowed to under Hinckley's bill.
Ewing said when he goes fishing in the Snowy Range, he typically carries a pistol in his backpack because of people he encounters illegally driving off-road vehicles - people who might have no regard for any laws.
''I carry it because of the two-legged animals up there,'' he said. ''I don't want those folks having a concealed weapons permit.''
Typically, law-and-order bills are sent to the Judiciary Committee, but House Speaker Randall Luthi referred the legislation to the Minerals Committee because it had a lighter workload
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