2013-01-16 / Columns

This is what happens when the GOP is in total control


So there was the state of my nativity, Wyoming, in the news again last night for yet another wacky law they’re considering — this time a bill sponsored by eight members of the state House of Representatives and two state senators declaring that any federal law that attempts to ban semi-automatic firearms, or the size of magazines, shall be deemed null and void in the state. It also mandates that any federal officer who tries to enforce a national law regulating those things will be guilty of a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

The proposed law was described by its main sponsor, Rep. Kendell Kroeker (REvansville), as a proactive finger in the eye of the folks like Joe Biden currently thinking about new firearms regulations in the wake of the Newtown slaughter, and too many others like it. “We want to get ahead of the game,” Kroeker said.

As soon as news of this proposed law hit the wires, the liberal media started having heart palpitations. When he was talking about it Friday night, I actually thought Chris Matthews might suffer apoplexy right there in the studio as he railed on about “nullification,” and other legal experts opined that Kroeker’s law would be unconstitutional if enacted. (Kroeker, by the way, has a history of proposing controversial legislation, as evidenced by his failed attempt to return Wyoming to the gold standard.)

“What is going on out there?” one of the pundits asked.

At which I could only laugh, because I know exactly what’s going on, and it’s a textbook example of what happens when you have too many Republicans in power for too long. Some survey during the last presidential campaign season noted that Wyoming is the most conservative state in the nation, and that is certainly evidenced by whom they elect to office.

Currently, there are 52 Republicans in the state House of Representatives, and only eight Democrats. There are 26 Republicans in the state Senate, and only four Democrats. In other words, the state’s Democratic lawmakers could hold a caucus of both legislative houses in the two back booths at Denny’s and still have room for a sheepdog and a Shetland pony.

That’s the way it’s been for as long as I can remember, and you’d think the Republicans out there would be happy they get to live and work in a veritable GOP Utopia where they can have anything they want, sans pesky opposition. You’d be wrong, because there are so many of them that they have to out-conservative each other in order to stand out.

This is the same state, you might remember, where last year several lawmakers advanced the notion of creating a task force to study what Wyoming should do in the event of a complete economic or political collapse in the U.S. In addition to other things, the task force would consider under what conditions the state should issue its own currency, institute its own draft, raise a standing army, and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier.

That bill didn’t make it very far after Gov. Matt Mead was quoted saying the only place you could park an aircraft carrier in the landlocked state would be Jackson Lake, but lots of other laws that give many in the blue states a case of the shivering fantods sail through just fine, especially when it comes to gun laws.

In the state of my birth, and where I grew to adulthood, you don’t need a permit to purchase firearms; you don’t have to register them; there’s no law covering assault weapons; you don’t have to have a license to own weapons; there are virtually no restrictions on “open carry,” which means you’re good to go almost anywhere as long as the weapon is visible; and there are no restrictions on weapons covered under the National Firearms Act, like machine guns and sawed-off shotguns.

And in 2011, a law went into effect making it legal for most people to carry a concealed weapon almost anywhere (save courthouses, airports, schools, public buildings, churches, bars, and anywhere notices prohibiting firearms are posted, like Wendy’s) without getting a permit to do so. That law was overwhelmingly supported by the state Legislature.

So you can see why — in a climate like that — a guy like Kroeker from some dinky burg like Evansville has to do something pretty spectacular to make a name for himself. Even so, there’s no guarantee his bill will ever make it through the Legislature, which sometimes suffers a case of commonsenseitis, as it did recently when it nixed the idea of allowing sound suppressors on hunting rifles.

And even if it is signed into law, it would be patently unenforceable, as will be the amendment to the state Constitution, proposed, you guessed it, by Republicans, and overwhelmingly supported by voters in the last election (181,984 to 54,405), to exempt Wyoming from the onerous constraints of Obamacare. (Editor’s note: That vote tally isn’t a typo; there just aren’t many people out there.)

So take a chill pill, Chris Matthews — although you might want to avoid any notion of taping an installment of “Hardball” at the Cheney International Center at the University of Wyoming. (No kidding, the place was dedicated in 2009, with the UW alum and prime architect of the 2003 Iraq war in proud attendance, and fewer than 100 protesters to rain on the parade.)

This whole thing is just a tempest in a teapot, a few attention-starved pols grandstanding, a weirdly entertaining diversion, and I doubt it will catch on — although it is a good case study in what happens when a society elects too many Republicans.

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How many are too many, you ask? Sorry, folks, I wouldn’t touch that one with the proverbial 10-foot pole. I’ll leave that to the Online Magic 8 Ball. “Is having a Republican super-majority among lawmakers the very definition of insanity?” The answer: YES!

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Woman at Cheyenne Frontier Days in best Mae West voice: “Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?”

Man: “It’s a pistol.” Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.

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