Hidden Loaded Guns And No Training
Republican bill to end permits and training for concealed carry is dangerous.
For four decades, the National Rifle Association worked to get concealed carry laws passed, culminating in Illinois becoming the last state to pass such a bill in 2013. Typically those laws required a permit and training for those who want to carry a concealed weapon.
Now the NRA wants to upend those laws and grant even greater license to hidden, loaded handguns. It wants concealed carry with no training or permits required, “no license, no fees, no government hoops to jump through,” as state Sen. David Craig (R-Town of Vernon) declared in a press release announcing a bill the NRA says could make Wisconsin the 13th state with such a law, though it appears only nine states have actually passed a permit-less carry law.
Craig and Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) are among 41 co-authors of the “Right to Carry Act”, as they’ve dubbed it. That right, of course, already exists; this bill simply removes any responsibilities for those claiming this right.
“The strange thing about this is I’m not sensing a ground swell of public demand for this legislation,” says Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, who opposes the bill.
No indeed. A recent survey of Wisconsin’s registered voters found 91 percent supported a requirement that a background check, permit and fee should be required of anyone carrying a concealed weapon. That included support from 86 percent of gun owners in the state.
And just 21 percent of voters supported allowing people to bring concealed weapons into K-12 schools.
This legislation is being pushed not by the citizenry, but by the NRA, whose spokesperson Amy Hunter told Wisconsin Public Radio that those carrying guns openly aren’t required to have training or a permit, yet “if they put a coat on or if they need to put their firearm in their purse, you instantly become a criminal.” That language was repeated by Sen. Craig, who declared: “If you decide to throw on a coat, you should not be considered a criminal.”
To which Jeri Bonavia, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, responds, “that’s actually pointing out a flaw in the current law: those openly carrying a gun should also be required to get training and a permit.”
There are now 300,000 people with concealed carry permits in Wisconsin. Chisholm and Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn have decried this trend, with Flynn calling the law “insane” and complaining, “we are doing everything we can to make sure our criminals have unfettered access to high-quality firearms and get to carry them in record numbers. There are more guns out there every year.”
Flynn has said the law puts officers at risk. Under the CCW law, he noted, “when the police see someone carrying a gun we are to assume they are carrying legally, even in a high-crime neighborhood where there are hundreds of crimes that happen.”
Chisholm and Flynn have pleaded with Wisconsin legislators to tighten the guidelines for concealed carry, to prevent “habitual offenders” (who’ve committed at least three misdemeanors) and those convicted of misdemeanors such as “endangering safety by use of a dangerous weapon” or “pointing or aiming a gun” from getting a permit to carry.
“We thought we were making some headway on this,” Chisholm says. “And then this bill shows up.”
So far, no one from the law enforcement community in the state has endorsed the proposal.
Jim Palmer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, says his group opposes it. “Our elected leadership of officers from around the state overwhelmingly opposes an expansion of the law which eliminates the need for any kind of training whatsoever. Having some training component is a benefit to both public safety and officer safety.”
Appleton Police Chief Todd Thomas told Green Bay TV station WBAY that “Legislation like this, in a time when we continue to see random and impulsive acts of mass murder… only makes Wisconsin less safe. Police officers, first responders, and our medical professionals all too often are dealing with tragedies that occur because of the accidental discharges of firearms or impulsive acts by those who are in crisis. To eliminate the required training to carry concealed… should concern all of us and not just law enforcement.”
School leaders also oppose the bill. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards has adopted a policy saying “The WASB supports safe learning environments for all children, free of guns and other weapons. Further, the WASB opposes any initiatives at the state or federal level that would legalize any further ability for anyone, with the exception of sworn law enforcement officers, to bring a weapon or possess a weapon, including a facsimile or ‘look-alike’ weapon, concealed or otherwise, in school zones.”
If it seems inconceivable that a Republican-led legislature would push for a law that police across the state see as dangerous, it is a reflection of how radical Wisconsin has gotten. As Capitol columnist Steven Walters has written, a hard right group of eight or nine state senators are likely to dictate much of what makes it into the state budget. On more general legislation like this, you need bigger numbers, but can still pass a bill with no Democratic support and some GOP dissenters.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of support coming from the Republican leadership on this,” says Bonavia. Gov. Scott Walker has yet to endorse the bill.
The reality is that voters are not in favor of this bill. Palmer points to a survey his group commissioned with the St. Norbert College Strategic Research Institute, which found more than 70 percent of respondents opposed allowing concealed carry within K-12 schools and college campuses.
Voters want more, not less restrictions on gun owners. A Marquette Law School poll found both gun owners and non-gun owners support requiring background checks of gun buyers, with 82 percent of owners and 81 percent of non-owners favoring this. Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett have lobbied the legislature to pass such a law, with no luck.
The reality is that the opinion of average voters counts less than the clout of the NRA, which spent $3.6 million since January 2008 to support GOP and conservative legislative and statewide candidates, including about $23,400 on the legislative elections last fall, as the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported.
That included $75,900 in campaign contributions to nearly four dozen Republican legislators, who are the most likely candidates to support what Democratic state Sen. Jennifer Shilling has called a “completely irresponsible” bill.
Or as Palmer puts it, “this new proposal is an unnecessary overreach that will do nothing to improve the safety of our communities and the officers that patrol them.”
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