Wyoming state House approves concealed weapons law

CODY, Wyoming Wed Feb 23, 2011 6:26pm EST

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CODY, Wyoming (Reuters) - Wyoming state lawmakers on Wednesday approved a proposal to allow residents to carry concealed guns or other deadly weapons without a permit.

The proposal already cleared the state Senate, and the vote of 48-8 in the House virtually assures that the measure will get final approval after two more readings this week. It will then go to Republican Gov. Matt Mead for his signature.

If signed into law, Wyoming would follow Alaska, Arizona and Vermont with very permissive gun laws allowing residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

Mead, a former U.S. Attorney for Wyoming who has prosecuted federal firearms cases, has said he supports gun rights but will wait until the bill reaches his desk before deciding whether to sign it, spokesman Renny MacKay said.

Some in law enforcement had opposed the bill, saying the state's existing permit system worked well by allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons after they prove proficiency in using firearms and pass a background check.

Representative Jonathan Botten, a Republican, had proposed amending the bill to prevent residents from carrying concealed guns while drunk. The House rejected that amendment.

"If you're too drunk to hurtle your 3-ton car down the interstate at 75 miles per hour, I submit to you that you're too drunk to be safely carrying a firearm," Botten said.

"We have a very strong sense of protecting individual rights, and in particular, the Second Amendment rights," said Representative Lorraine Quarberg, a Republican who supported the bill but opposed Botten's amendment. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution preserves the right to bear arms.

Democratic Rep. James W. Byrd said he worried that passing the bill "throws the door wide open to all sorts of mischief and problems."

Bryan Skoric, prosecuting attorney for Park County, said he supported the bill, and did not expect to see a major rise in the number of residents carrying concealed guns.

Skoric, who describes himself as a strong supporter of gun rights, said passage of the bill should not be a cause for concern among police and prosecutors, and that he expects other states to follow suit with similar measures.

Wyoming will maintain its existing system of issuing concealed-carry permits based on background checks and firearms training for those gun owners who want a reciprocal permit with a state that require such safeguards.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)

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