History and Opinion
By Phil Roberts
An earlier version of this article was initially sent as an e-mail message to Albany County legislators and others on Jan. 29, 2015, in light of a bill passed by a Wyoming House committee that, if it ever were to become law, would open all schools and campuses to unrestricted carrying of loaded guns.
We Should Not Allow Guns in Schools, on UW Campus
I'm a native of Wyoming (first home was a ranch in the Hat Creek country of Niobrara County) and a veteran of the U. S. Marine Corps. I may have a bit more experience with guns than quite a few fellow members of the faculty--perhaps even more shooting experience than many students at the university. And through gaining that experience, it gives me reason to believe that we should not allow any guns on this campus or any other Wyoming school.
We are dealing here with students, a lot of them rather immature and away from home for the first time. When I was in the Marines, at the beginning we, too, were "students" (after a fashion) in boot camp and ITR (infantry training regiment). Perhaps recruit training changed in more modern times, but during the height of the Vietnam War when I was in both boot camp and ITR, the recruits ("students") were not allowed to have guns in the classrooms, the training fields or the barracks or carry loaded guns, even on long marches. Guns never came back with us to the barracks or classrooms (except those ancient M-14s, unloaded that we used for drill only and were always locked up at the quonset hut doorway of each platoon). The 16s were checked in to the armory. There were good reasons for the ban. For one, drill instructors and training officers weren't very keen on having armed "students" under their charge. Most of them probably didn't want to feel like the duck in the shooting gallery, especially after "grading" the "students"--certainly in a different way and a good bit more stringently than I grade my History of Wyoming students! Nonetheless, the principle remains the same. Temper, immaturity, ready access to a weapon can be a fatal mix.
Marine marksmanship instructors felt the same way as the DIs. In recruit training on the firing range, we'd have cartridges counted out to us and we were expected to have the casings or the remaining live rounds to turn in at the end of the day's target practice. As long as we were "students," even in the U. S. military and on American soil, our Second Amendment rights were violated, right there on base! (I checked this morning with my history department colleague Dr. Jeff Means who served in the Marine Corps during the Gulf War. He told me that the same procedures were used when he was in Marine training, some 20 years after my service).
During the time after BITS and other training when I was permanent party at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, there was not one case of a "student" (recruit) shooting a drill instructor or a training officer. Just lucky? Or would it have been different if all of them had been armed with loaded M-16s and .45 pistols? By the way, I qualified expert rifle and expert pistol, but I'm not foolish enough to think I could, now or 20 years ago, get the drop on a disgruntled armed student firing at me or others from among the 130 or so in my classroom, at least not without causing serious damage to lots of innocent people. Anyone thinking otherwise hasn't taken enough training.
Also, I doubt you need to be reminded of the tragic case of Dave Marion, UW football player in January 1963, who was accidentally shot (and permanently paralyzed) while he and some buddies were fooling around with a .22 in his dorm room in Wyo Hall. Even though the UniReg banning guns on campus may have stemmed from that incident, one could argue that students probably still continued to have guns in their rooms. Yes--and even though it was banned in residence halls, I seem to recall seeing beer and other alcohol from time to time during the time I lived in McIntyre Hall. (But not in my room, of course). Hmmm.... Beer and guns in student dorm rooms? Guns condoned and even encouraged. Mix guns and alcohol with stress, anger, resentments, jealousies of late teens. What possibly could go wrong? In my view, it is more effective to discourage gunplay in advance than to wait for a violent incident before taking action.
Some people state that having everyone "packing heat" is a Wyoming tradition. Obviously, they've not studied Wyoming history. Gun control ordinances were often among the first acts passed by town councils in early Wyoming.
In Cheyenne, the ordinance passed 88 days after the location of the town was selected--Sept. 27, 1867: "It shall be unlawful for any person, other than a member of the police force, to carry or keep any Fire Arm of any description, or any bowie knife, dagger, sling shot, or other dangerous weapon upon his or her person either publicly or concealed." The second section established fines of $100, 30 days in jail. The third section stated: It shall be the duty of the Police officers to arrest any person found in the act of violating this ordinance except in the cases of strangers and non-residents of this city who shall be first informed of this ordinance and allowed 30 minutes to comply." Similar ordinances were passed in Rawlins, Worland, Casper, Sheridan, and even the "wild west" town of Cody.
These ordinances did not go away with statehood and adoption of the Wyoming Constitution. In fact, many of them were adopted AFTER statehood. The Cody ordinance, passed June 7, 1905, still appeared in City Attorney William Simpson's compilation of the Cody city ordinances, published in 1921. (William was Pete and Al's grandfather). The Sheridan ordinance was first adopted in 1908. The Rawlins ordinance was "revised, passed and adopted" in 1893. In Lusk, the ordinance passed Aug. 1, 1898, the sixth ordinance passed after the town officially became a municipality. In Worland, it was the ninth ordinance passed on incorporation, May 9, 1906, shortly after adoption of the town's charter.
For more on this topic, see http://www.wyofile.com/column/historic-perspective-on-gun-control-in-wyoming-2/
The statement often is made that these ordinances weren't enforced often, if at all. In point of fact, there are numerous examples of enforcement.. Undoubtedly many other instances were not recorded. Normally, it only took one or two examples for lawbreakers to recognize that towns' lawmen meant business.
But enforcement really isn't the point. By passing the acts, the founders of our state's towns demonstrated how they felt about carrying guns in their towns. They weren't stupid or unfamiliar with use of firearms, but they knew the consequences of having every Tom, Dick and Harry strutting around with a .45 on his hip. So many times, we look back to the wisdom of our frontier ancestors for guidance on today's questions. This certainly is another time to do it.
I'm confident that you know all of this and the consequences and won't support HB 114. But if some other legislators allow a few shrill paranoids to drive legislative policy, maybe they should think about seeking office in Somalia or Yemen. In those government-free zones, there wouldn't be any restrictive regulation of guns. Maybe they could walk the streets, albeit momentarily, fully armed and, after the gunfire ends, no longer afraid or alive to worry about it.
This page will contain occasional commentary on current events by Phil Roberts. The opinions expressed here are strictly those of Phil Roberts and does not represent any other person or organization.