LANDER — A Republican party official wearing a holstered firearm at a legislative committee hearing sparked an exchange with Senate Revenue Committee Chairman Cale Case, R-Lander, though the party official said the discussion was a “joking” one.
Uinta County Republican Party Chairman Karl Allred approached the Joint Revenue Committee at its meeting in Lander on Thursday to express his displeasure at a corporate income tax proposal. Before taking his seat at the table reserved for those addressing the lawmakers, he adjusted his belt and the holstered pistol on his hip.
Allred spoke for approximately 10 minutes. He voiced his opposition to most tax increases, and accused lawmakers of using a proposed corporate income tax as a vehicle to stealthily impose an income tax on all Wyoming residents. Committee members said that reading of the bill was, in fact, Allred misunderstanding the way bills are drafted by the legislative attorneys.
At the conclusion of his testimony, Case asked Allred about the pistol.
“Mr. Allred I can’t but notice that you’re open-carrying and I support open carry,” he said. “This is private property and I was wondering if you cleared it with the owners of this facility?”
Open carry is the practice of visibly carrying a pistol in a holster or a long firearm on a sling.
The meeting was at the Inn at Lander, a hotel on the southern edge of town that Case later said he owns.
Allred had not, he said. “I’ve been here many times and I’ve never had a problem with that and it’s not posted ‘no guns,’” he said. The hotel also had “public access,” Allred said.
“I think it’d be better if you checked with the owner,” Case said. “That happens to be me. I don’t intend to deny it but I think it’s good policy if you’re going to open-carry in a private business to talk to the business.”
“I’ll be sure to give you a call next time I come up,” Allred replied.
Within his rights…
Allred is certain he was within his rights to open-carry the firearm at the meeting, he told WyoFile in an interview. State statute forbids carrying a concealed weapon at government meetings. It does not address open carry.
There was no particular reason Allred went armed to a meeting of the Revenue Committee, he said. “It’s just the normal course of business,” he said.
Allred wears a holstered firearm openly into meetings all the time, he said. He’s also done so around Wyoming governors, as well as Republican U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, he said. “That’s one of the great things about Wyoming,” he said.
Allred characterized the exchange with Case as “just kind of a personal joke,” between the two men, and said he has often open-carried at meetings Case has attended.
He did not know Case owned the Inn at Lander before Thursday’s meeting, he said. Despite his neglect in this instance, Allred said “it’s good policy if you know the owner and just say ‘hey you don’t mind, do you?’”
For his part, Case said he supports the right to carry though he finds a firearm “unnecessary.” He asked Allred about the pistol to put the other meeting attendees at ease, he said. Case does not charge the Legislature for using meeting space in the hotel he is a part owner of, he said.
“I thought about just ignoring it, which if it was a different venue, I would,” he said. “But it was my own venue. I know people are nervous about guns … but the Constitution is also important.
“I knew it would be a polite exchange and it would put people at ease about it,” Case said.
Wyoming does not have a statute prohibiting open carry of firearms in the Capitol Building or other government offices, but there are administrative rules preventing “dangerous weapons” from being brought inside. Those rules come from the State Building Commission, which sets rules for buildings that are “under the control of state government.”
In the Jonah Business Center where the Legislature has conducted its business for the last several years, firearms are banned by signs on the doors leading into the building.
The Jonah Business Center is a private building leased by the state government, and the State Building Commission sets rules for the areas in use by the Legislature and its staff.
Nineteen states have laws regulating the presence of firearms in state capitols or other state government buildings, according to the gun control organization Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Some of those allow open carry but prohibit concealed weapons. Others, like neighboring Colorado, allow concealed weapons in the statehouse, but not open carry.
Allred has been involved in efforts to further loosen Wyoming’s gun regulations. He played a role last spring when conservatives deliberately violated University of Wyoming policy by open-carrying at the Wyoming Republican Party convention on campus.
The defiance drew a citation from campus police and then a legal challenge from conservatives, which is now before the Wyoming Supreme Court. Gun advocates are also trying to roll back what few firearms restrictions there are in Wyoming law, with senators recently proposing, but failing, to repeal gun-free zone laws.
WyoFile.com is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.