A Brief History of Public Carry in Wyoming
28 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2021 Last revised: 6 Jul 2021
Date Written: March 25, 2021
The history of gun carry laws in Wyoming parallels that of many other Western states, impacted the presence of great changes in national and regional events. From the time that Wyoming first became a territory in 1868, the treaties with the Cheyenne, the Crow, the Sioux, and the Arapahoe peoples distributing lands in Wyoming were in force. The Wind River Reservation was created for the Shoshones. The Homestead Act was recently passed, and the Pony Express, the Oregon Trail, the Overland Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the Bozeman Road crossed the plains and mountains of the territory. The Civil War had just ended and recovery was painful. The U.S. government had granted land to the Union Pacific for the transcontinental railroad, bringing with the project an itinerant population of railroad workers, many of whom were immigrants of minority status. Raids and skirmishes between settlers, migrants, and frustrated Indian Nations were increasing, and federal military outposts were built. The Territory of Wyoming encompassed an expansive geographical area, but the population was sparse. Vast prairies surrounded homes and towns, and the arm of justice was often far away. For the few short years that a portion of Wyoming existed as part of the Dakota Territory, the seat of government in Yankton, Dakota Territory, was 500 miles from Cheyenne, with limited access to the courts.
Parts of Wyoming were lawless and dangerous, at times exceedingly so. At a time when guns were carried openly upon a person for business or for protection, carrying a concealed weapon came to be viewed with distrust. One Wyoming newspaper editor went so far as to infer intent to harm just by the act of arming oneself.
“We take the point that the very act of arming oneself as a result of a quarrel or in anticipation of trouble constitutes malice and premeditation in a strict sense; that in view of the law prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons, any person who has a grievance against another and arms himself is deserving of no sympathy when, as a result of his misdeeds, he is brought before the bar of justice.”
In the 150 years since the creation of the territorial government, the State’s stance on gun carrying has undergone many adjustments. It shows that peaceable open firearm carriage has almost always been allowed everywhere, and always allowed somewhere, in Wyoming. Concealed carry, on the other hand, has a mixed history. It came to be held in disdain, and highly regulated, in the early part of Wyoming’s history. But it became the accepted and default mode of public carry in recent years. Wyoming today has some of the most liberal gun laws in the country. This essay surveys the development of these laws from positive, public-discourse, and comparative perspectives to the extent possible given the relative paucity of sources on the topic.
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