By Ruffin Prevost
Cody, Wyoming (Reuters) - The Wyoming House of Representatives passed two bills on Friday geared toward protecting or expanding gun rights in the state, including one aimed at nullifying some of the new federal gun restrictions proposed by the Obama administration.
Both bills, which passed 46-13, head to the Republican-dominated Senate, where their prospects for passage were considered good. Republican Governor Matt Mead has not said whether he would sign either measure into law.
One of the bills, the so-called Firearm Protection Act, would seek to invalidate any new federal bans or restrictions on semi-automatic firearms or ammunition magazines. It also precludes state enforcement of those restrictions, if passed at the federal level.
The move comes amid a renewed debate over gun control in the United States following a shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school in which 20 first-graders and six adults were killed.
In the wake of that shooting and outcry, President Barack Obama has proposed reinstating a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons, limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines and more extensive background checks of prospective gun buyers.
Wyoming Representative Kendell Kroeker, who sponsored the bill, said during debate that the U.S. government could not regulate guns in Wyoming because it "does not have that jurisdiction" in the state.
But Democrat Mary Throne opposed the measure, calling it an attempt at state nullification of a federal law, something southern states tried before the Civil War and during the era of segregation.
"That wasn't exactly a bright, shining moment in our history," Throne said. "Certainly, if we want to make a statement, we can do it. But let's not pretend it's consistent with the Constitution, because it's not."
Wyoming is one of several states where legislators have proposed laws seeking to nullify new federal gun restrictions, said Jon Griffin, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Among the other states where such laws have been introduced this year are Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, he said.
The second bill advanced by the Wyoming House would let school district employees and parents of students carry concealed guns on campus if they have a permit issued by local law enforcement officials and notified school administrators.
"I'll just remind you that I think an armed society is a safe society," said Republican Representative Allen Jaggi, a former teacher who sponsored the Citizens' and Students' Self-Defense Act.
But Representative Jerry Paxton, a Republican gun owner and former school principal, said he had serious concerns about concealed guns in schools.
"I love guns, but I love kids more," said Paxton, a Republican who voted for the bill after it was amended to exclude students.
Wyoming passed a law in 2011 allowing residents over 18 to carry concealed guns with no permit, except in certain places like schools, courthouses, churches, bars and jails.
Another state law exempts guns manufactured and used solely within Wyoming from U.S. gun laws, claiming the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution does not apply to them.
Jim King, a Univesity of Wyoming political science professor, said efforts like the proposed federal gun law nullification bill were often as much about pushing back against federal control as they were about guns.
"Wyoming political culture is very much one that considers the federal government suspiciously, and is very assertive of state prerogatives," King said.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh)
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