CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Guns already are as much a part of Wyoming culture as rodeo and four-wheel drive vehicles.
They could become even more ubiquitous if the governor signs a pair of bills that cleared the state Senate on Monday and would allow teachers to carry them at school and citizens to take them into government meetings.
The bills await votes in the House on changes made in the Senate before heading to the desk of Gov. Matt Mead, who hasn't hinted how he will act on the bills but appears unlikely to veto either.
Mead has spoken openly about his collection of powerful firearms and about successfully recruiting ammunition manufacturer Magpul Industries to move to Cheyenne from Colorado after that state passed tougher gun laws.
Gun advocates in the Wyoming Legislature finally got the critical mass needed for both new gun-carry measures after several years of trying. They pointed to other states, including Texas, that have allowed guns in government meetings for years without significant problems.
"We don't have the sky falling," said Sen. Anthony Bouchard, a Republican from Cheyenne and outspoken gun advocate who was elected last year.
Wyoming now has the most-Republican legislature in the country and close to the biggest Republican majorities in state history: 27-3 in the Senate and 51-9 in the House.
Add to that Wyoming's growing culture of gun display as seen in pistols openly packed at dinner parties and an assault-type rifle carried by a regular at a downtown Cheyenne coffee shop — and it seems the time has come for the two gun bills.
Conjecture about the need for guns in Wyoming schools got national attention last month. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, under questioning from Wyoming U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi during her confirmation hearing, suggested an elementary school in the tiny community of Wapiti might want to keep a gun handy to protect students from grizzly bears.
In the early 2000s, school officials working with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department installed a tall fence to keep grizzlies off the grounds of the K-5 school.
Under one of the newly approved bills, a school official would need to have a concealed-carry permit and school board permission to take a gun into school. They would need to either carry it at all times or keep it in a locked box under direct control.
The only debate over the guns-in-meetings bill was whether to let cities and counties decide for themselves whether to allow guns at city council and county commission meetings.
"There has never been a time in the state of Wyoming where this right has been without bounds," said Democratic Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss of Laramie. "We know that rights unfortunately are not simple black and white issues."
Senators said local control is usually best but allowing local officials to decide the issue could lead to a confusing mix of rules among jurisdictions.
Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver
This story's headline has been corrected to remove reference to governor.