Bison bill defends guns
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
February 28, 2013
Wyoming House members swallowed a bitter pill Wednesday when they approved a bison hunting bill.
House members liked the original bill, but not a Senate gun rights amendment added at the last moment.
Just one day before, senators shoehorned an amendment into the legislation that provides $250,000 to fight any federal regulations that restrict guns Wyoming laws deem legal and “useful” in hunting bison. The amendment is seen by many as anti-gun control posturing.
House Bill 41 made it back to the House on Wednesday morning, the last day of the legislative session. Representatives said they didn’t have time to hammer out a compromise in committee. They also didn’t want to sacrifice the bill, which they say is important in keeping the Jackson bison herd in check.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, will allow hunters to kill a cow or calf bison every five years. Existing rules limit hunters to one bison in a lifetime.
So representatives held their noses and passed the bill with the amendment.
“They boxed us in,” Gingery said. “Sometimes you play a game and the other person boxes you in, and you have to learn to move on and look to the next time.”
Calling the amendment “ridiculous,” “goofy” and “ludicrous,” House members approved the Senate version of the bill 49-11. Lawmakers said it was more important to pass the bill than pick a fight with the Senate on the last day of the session. Even with the amendment, the money probably won’t be spent, representatives said.
“Essentially what you’re doing is putting money in a coffee can,” Gingery said.
The legislation, which still needs the governor’s signature, also will lower bison license fees.
Gingery said he hoped to entice more hunters to Jackson Hole to hunt bison to reduce the size of the herd, now about 900 animals. Wildlife agents want to cut the herd to 500.
The Senate amendment drew sharp criticism from some representatives.
“This is tagging,” said Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne. “They’re playing a game with us, and I don’t think we should put up with it.”
Gingery said his bill was the last one remaining that senators could add the amendment to. Senators wanted something to take home to show they stood up for gun rights, he said.
“One of them must have figured out that you shoot bison with things called guns,” he said.
On Tuesday, senators who supported the amendment said the money would give Wyoming officials a chance to fight regulations that might curtail Second Amendment rights.
Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, said the bill pertains only to guns useful in hunting bison. That means large hunting rifles, he said.
“That’s the core of our Second Amendment,” Scott said on the Senate floor.
Lawmakers in both houses questioned whether the amendment truly was related to the bill. Legislative rules require lawmakers to focus their bills on one topic.
Senate leaders said the amendment was germane because the bill mentioned bison hunting.
Ultimately, House members acquiesced.
“Without increasing hunting pressure on this population, the population will increase,” Gingery said. “It will make it harder to decrease through a hunt and then we’ll have to switch to a different system.”