A state Senate committee approved a bill Wednesday, May 25, that would allow Wisconsin residents to carry concealed weapons.
Senate Bill 93, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee along a partisan 3-2 vote, would not require either permits or training.
Under the proposed law, any Wisconsin resident could go armed into most public places as long as they were at least 21 years old and had not been convicted of a felony or banned due to mental disease.
Guns would still be banned from police stations, jails and prisons, courthouses and airports. The bill prohibits people from carrying a weapon onto school grounds, but limits the state ban on carrying firearms within 1,000 feet of school grounds.
While the bill does not specifically ban weapons from other buildings, such as universities, taverns and shopping malls, it allows the owners or leaseholders of such buildings to post signs prohibiting weapons in the building. The signs must be orange and at least 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches.
The owner of a building who chooses not to prohibit weapons will also be “immune from any liability arising from its decision.”
It allows employers to prohibit their employees from carrying weapons into the workplace, but does not allow employers to prohibit their employees to have a weapon inside their vehicle, even while it is parked on company property.
The bill would strike current state law that prohibits people from carrying an uncased and loaded weapon in a car.
The bill specifically prohibits municipalities and counties from enforcing ordinances that are more restrictive than the state law.
If the bill becomes law, Wisconsin would shift from being one of only two states that currently prohibit residents from carrying concealed weapons to one of only five states that allow concealed carry without requiring a permit.
Law enforcement responds to bill
Although they both recognized that Wisconsin will soon allow residents to carry concealed weapons, two local law enforcement officials expressed their concerns about SB 93.
“As a member of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, we strongly oppose legalizing concealed carry and putting more people on the street with guns,” Waupaca Police Chief Tim Goke said.
Goke said if a concealed carry law is enacted in Wisconsin, it should at least require permits and training.
“Training is fundamental if people are to understand where and when they are legally allowed to use a weapon. If a person is the victim of a property crime, for example, they are not allowed to use deadly force,” Goke said. “Only if you have reason to fear for your life will you be allowed to use a weapon.”
Goke noted that extensive and ongoing training is required for law enforcement officers. They must not only know how to handle a weapon, they must know when circumstances allow them to use their weapons.
Current law prohibits people from taking weapons into establishments where alcohol is sold. SB 93 would eliminate that ban.
“Where do most fights occur at night? At taverns and bars. And generally, alcohol is involved. Now, with concealed carry, a bar fight can turn into a deadly situation,” Goke said.
Goke said the law will probably change the way officers interact with motorists that they pull over.
“We would have to assume there are weapons at any traffic stop and on any contact,” Goke said.
Pointing to a recent incident, Goke said Waupaca officers stopped a man for suspicious activity, whom they discovered had a warrant issued for his arrest.
“He was carrying a concealed weapon. He had a sword concealed in his cane,” Goke said. “He was arrested on the warrant and charged with carrying a concealed weapon.”
Goke said he was also concerned that only convicted felons would be banned from carrying concealed weapons. He noted how plea bargaining is a necessary part of the criminal justice system. He said a felony battery charge is often reduced to a misdemeanor in order to secure a conviction. As a consequence, a violent criminal with only a misdemeanor conviction would be outside of the bill’s restrictions on concealed carry.
Waupaca County Sheriff Brad Hardel also supports some type of permit process and required training.
“I think the proposal that is coming forward now is not very friendly to law enforcement,” Hardel said.
Hardel, who is a member of the Badger State Sheriff’s Association, said law enforcement would like more input on the concealed carry bill before it is enacted into law.
Hardel said he understands why people want to be able to defend themselves.
“I’m not concerned about law-abiding citizens who would get a permit,” Hardel said, noting that the very fact that they obtained a permit indicates they are law-abiding.
Hardel said he would like to see two types of training required before permits are issued for carrying weapons.
“First, you have to know when it’s legal to use a weapon and when it isn’t legal,” Hardel said. “Second, you need to know how to use a firearm safely.”
Although Hardel did not comment on the issue, the Badger State Sheriff’s Association is seeking an amendment to the law that would not only require permits but tie the permits into a driver’s records with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Under this amendment, if an officer is pursuing a vehicle and calls in a license plate number, a records check would indicate whether the person had a concealed carry permit.
The records, as proposed by the Badger State Sheriff’s Association, would not be open to the general public or the press.
Senate candidates on concealed carry
State Sen. Luther Olsen, who faces a recall election in July, said he will vote against a concealed carry bill that does not require permits or training.
“The bill will be amended from what I can understand,” Olsen said. “A bill that I would support would require a permit and training.”
When asked about lifting the ban on carrying weapons into taverns, Olsen said, “A tavern can put up a sign that says, ‘We don’t allow guns in here.’ Guns would be prohibited on an individual basis.”
Olsen said there are concealed carry bills in both the Senate and the Assembly that would require permits and training. Before a bill becomes law, the same version must pass both houses of the Legislature.
State Rep. Fred Clark, who is challenging Olsen in the recall, said he opposes the bill currently before the Senate.
“I’m a gun owner and a hunter. I firmly believe in Second Amendment rights. And I think there’s a right way to allow concealed carry,” Clark said. “But if we let anybody who wants to carry a gun, we will be putting law enforcement at risk and citizens at risk.”
Clark said a licensing process that requires training will provide a balance between gun rights and public safety, and help ensure that the people carrying concealed weapons are “responsible citizens who know how to use their weapons.”
Clark said he wants to hear input from police chiefs and sheriffs regarding the concealed carry bill that has been introduced in the Assembly.
“At the end of the day, it’s law enforcement that will have to deal with an irresponsible concealed carry law,” Clark said.