CHEYENNE -- The day before a controversial gun bill had its first reading, lobbyists rounded up a few state representatives and took them to a shooting range 30 minutes from the Wyoming Capitol. The representatives were given a .308-caliber rifle equipped with a suppressor to muffle the sound of discharge. The suppressor reduced the sound by 40 decibels.
The trigger-pulling, though, didn’t sway members of the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee to endorse the legislation.
The committee defeated the bill by a vote of 6-3 on Friday, keeping silencers and suppressors illegal for hunters in Wyoming.
The members who voted against the bill viewed it as a law that would enable poaching and hinder state officials from citing violations.
“It would give a violator better concealment from being detected,” said Brian Nesvik, chief game warden for the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish.
The sound of a discharge gives the department increased ability to detect wildlife violations, he said.
“This bill is a poacher’s dream," said Kim Floyd, spokesman for the Wyoming Federation of Union Sportsmen.
At the demonstration for the lawmakers on Thursday, Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, said the decibels went from 170 to 130.
The sound is still there, he said.
“You cannot tell where [the shot] came from because the report at the muzzle is so suppressed,” Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Etna, said.
The sonic crack when a bullet breaks the sound barrier on a high-caliber firearm would still be there, Nesvik said.
“The sound is projected forward, and it does carry,” said Bob Wharff, Wyoming executive director for Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.
If a low-power gun like a .22 were to be suppressed, Floyd said, “you’re not going to hear it at all."
“If you’re at 20 yards and want to poach a big mule deer on its winter range, you’re going to use a .22 and a .22 is sufficient. ... Poachers have been caught because they’ve been heard.”
Jaggi supported the bill and said few people would acquire a suppressor at first.
“The cost of these wouldn’t make me put one on my 300 mag,” he said.
Purchasing a suppressor requires a permit, background check, fingerprints and a lot of money.
The suppressors run about $2,000.
“I have a perennial poacher in my neighborhood, and he can’t wait to get his hands on one,” Halverson said.
People who go through the purchase process are not going to violate the law, Wharff said. Anyone convicted of a felony involving a firearm would lose their right to own one, he said.
“To assume that every sportsman is a poacher is highly offensive to me and my organization,” Wharff said. “We’re the guys who turn in the poachers.”
If it gives one poacher the chance to take away wildlife from others in this state, “we don’t need to do it,” said Irah Leonetti, president of the Wyoming Game Wardens Association.
Shane Coppinger is a research and development specialist with Thunderbeast Arms Corporation in Cheyenne. His company makes suppressors and has sold them all over the country, including to law enforcement agencies and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. He said his business has tripled in the past year and quadrupled the year before. Most of his customers are civilians.
“Had it passed, Wyoming hunters would have purchased our product,” Coppinger said.
Wyoming is one of 36 states that prohibit suppressors.
“The biggest disappointment is the way the law is written now,” Coppinger said.
The law states that no suppressors shall be used in “game fields and forests.” The ambiguous language, Wharff said, is preventing hunters in the state from buying suppressors. People don’t know if they can use it on private property, he said.
“You can’t even use them for nongame species,” Coppinger said. “You could be on private property shooting prairie dogs and potentially be breaking the law.”