Lawmakers look to revive federal background check bill


CHEYENNE — After a bill failed in committee that would have required Wyoming to share disqualifying mental health information of potential gun owners with the FBI, lawmakers are looking to revive a similar version during the upcoming legislative session.

If passed, the legislation would require Wyoming to report people to the National Instant Background Check System if their mental health conditions disqualified them from getting a firearm. The bill would also set up an appeals process for those who lost their gun rights to regain them.

Several factors determine whether a person may be barred from owning a firearm, including if he or she has committed a felony, been involuntarily committed to a mental health institution or been declared criminally insane.

Wyoming is one of three states, along with Montana and New Hampshire, that fails to report disqualifying mental health data to the NICS database.

The new version of the bill comes from Rep. Bill Pownall, R-Gillette. A former Campbell County sheriff and a member of the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee, Pownall said he hopes the bill will help law enforcement keep tabs on who has been committed to a mental institution.

“If it was to save one life from an individual going and purchasing a gun from a dealer, to me it’s well worth it,” Pownall said.

The bill is essentially identical to one that was rejected by the Judiciary Committee in October. During that meeting, some lawmakers voted against the proposal due to worries the bill could lead to further background checks later on.

Pownall, a self-avowed advocate for the Second Amendment, said he wouldn’t try to pass further legislation on top of his current proposal.

“By all means, I believe people that don’t break the law or commit felonies should own guns,” Pownall said. “I believe in the right to carry firearms, as long as you’re a law-abiding citizen. That’s the key, and this bill doesn’t affect law-abiding citizens.”

There is another important part to Pownall’s bill. Along with language requiring reporting to the NICS, the bill would also establish an appeals process through the courts that allows people who have lost their gun rights to potentially regain them.

“Currently, if you’re adjudicated and sent to (the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston), you have no way of getting your rights back to purchase a weapon,” Pownall said.

A few other members of the Judiciary Committee, including the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Dan Kirkbride, R-Chugwater, have joined as co-sponsors of Pownall’s bill.

Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne, another of those co-sponsors, said she thinks the bill strikes a balance between promoting gun safety and protecting Second Amendment rights, noting it has even gained the support of the National Rifle Association.

“This is just a common-sense thing,” Burlingame said. “It was really disheartening when we couldn’t make that a committee bill.”

Because this year’s session will focus on crafting the state budget, the bill will need to gain two-thirds approval from its originating chamber to even be discussed. Pownall acknowledged it could be tough to pass his legislation this session, but added it’s worth starting a conversation in the full body of the Legislature.

“For me, common sense says if you can save one life, go for it,” he added.

The Legislature will have a chance to consider the bill once its budget session begins Feb. 10 in the state Capitol.

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