Some 63 percent of the 579,000 residents in Wyoming own guns. This is the highest percentage of any state in the USA.
Perhaps it makes some sense to describe what living in the heart of America’s “gun culture” can be like during this time of national debate about guns and whether or not there is a need for national registry of gun owners.
Having spent time in places like Great Britain where even the occasional hunting shotgun is a rarity, our gun culture can begin to seem a little odd, I suppose, to people who do not live here.
The differences between states can be huge, even neighboring states. Perhaps it is because of the Columbine school shooting and the Aurora theatre shooting that Colorado has banned large gun magazines, for example.
But here in Wyoming, our business council is aggressively pursuing Colorado gun makers to pack up and move north to our more friendly environs.
There were reportedly 420 million guns in America for the 310 million of us living here just a few years ago. That was before President Obama’s election. I remember talking to the owners of a Lander gun shop, The Good Place, and they said Obama’s election was the best “economic stimulus” plan possible for their business. Gun sellers across the USA reported huge increases in the sales of guns. This trend continues today.
I have been taking note of some the things that can happen when you live in gun country compared to living in other parts of the country and the world. For example:
• My coffee group, the Fox News All-Stars down at the local Best Western, one morning saw an example of the pride of gun ownership. We were passing around an assault rifle. It was bought because Barack Obama had just been elected and its owner feared it would no longer be available for purchase. Some months later, another of the group was showing off a Russian-made shotgun with a 20-shell magazine for rapid firing. Watch out birds?
• When running for governor in 2002 I was constantly asked by people about my National Rifle Association (NRA) membership. These were strong, silent types of men, often with a seeming chip on the shoulder probably assuming I was going to give them the wrong answer. When I answered that, yes, I was an NRA member and that my wife says we own too many guns, it seemed to be the perfect retort.
• A few winters ago, a Riverton woman was shot in the leg while shoveling her front walk. Seems her pistol fell out of her shoulder holster as she was bent over. The gun hit the ground and discharged. The .357 Magnum hollow point bullet went through the inside of her ankle and exited below the knee. The 24-year old was treated at the Riverton hospital.
• Last summer, a 6-4, 250-pound brute was robbing a Casper beauty salon. An older gal pulled her pistol from her purse and convinced the would-be robber to flee.
• During a televised debate between Secretary of State Max Maxfield and challenger Mark Harris in 2002, Harris was armed. He is always armed, he told me later.
• A 17-year old Cheyenne girl was cited after she dropped her purse in a Starbucks and a pistol in the purse fired. She reportedly said: “I think my purse went off.” The bullet missed John Basile, 43, by about 10 inches. Two police officers in the coffee shop at the time heard the shot and pulled their guns and scanned the shop. They found her double barrel .38 Derringer in her purse on the floor. The top barrel had fired. The girl’s father had given the teen the gun for protection while she was traveling. She told police she was on her way to Laramie to visit friends and that was why she was packing heat. The girl paid a $750 bond for violating a law about juveniles possessing firearms. Part of her punishment was the requirement to attend a gun safety class.
• A few years ago, my brother-in-law Dan Kinneman of Dubois was featured in Varmint Magazine for killing a prairie dog from a mile away. If we joked about it at the time, the punch line might have been the following: first prairie dog asks second prairie dog, have you seen Joe? Second one says he disappeared. “One moment he was here. Then poof, he was a gone.”
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns and blogs at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.