Assembly passes concealed carry bill; sends it to Walker
By Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel
Updated: June 21, 2011 6:08 p.m. |
Madison - Wisconsin stands on the verge of becoming the 49th state in the country to allow citizens to carry concealed guns, after the state Assembly voted to legalize that practice Tuesday.
The measure passed 68-27 on a solid bipartisan margin.
The approval of the bill marks one more piece of long-blocked legislation that Republicans have been able to pass now that they control all of state government. The bill to allow the concealed carry of guns and other weapons like Tasers passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote last week, so approval in the Assembly sends the bill to Gov. Scott Walker, who supports the measure.
Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) said the measure restored the right of law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed weapon for their protection.
"This right is for all citizens of Wisconsin that follow the law," Nygren said.
Democrats and other skeptics criticized Republicans for making concealed carry a priority when the state faces continued high unemployment and for passing a bill without more stringent training requirements or a blanket prohibition on concealed guns in churches.
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said the governor would release his timetable for signing the bill after it reaches his desk. The bill would take effect on the first day of the fourth month after being published into law, meaning it could become law on Oct. 1 or Nov. 1 depending on its publication date. It would join other long-sought measures that Republicans have passed this year, including requiring photo IDs from voters and making health savings accounts tax exempt.
The measure includes provisions requiring training and permits, which were sought by both Walker and Democrats. Some Republicans unsuccessfully pushed a "constitutional carry" bill that would have allowed people to carry concealed guns without training or permits.
Under the bill, the state Department of Justice would have to issue permits to state residents 21 or over who got training and cleared background checks that showed they were not felons or otherwise prohibited from carrying guns.
"The Department of Justice has been given significant responsibility to implement this bill, and we will be working hard to put ourselves in position to begin issuing permits as soon as the law allows," spokesman Bill Cosh said.
Wisconsin and Illinois are the only states that have outright bans on carrying concealed weapons. Gun-rights advocates for years have pushed allowing concealed weapons in Wisconsin, but they were thwarted by then-Gov. Jim Doyle and Democrats in the Legislature.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said he supported concealed carry in principle and would probably apply for a permit. But he said that lawmakers should have made the bill's training requirement more stringent to ensure that permit holders have had training in actually shooting a firearm. He said that stronger training provisions would help Wisconsin's permits to be recognized in more states.
"I can't imagine why anybody would be opposed to that," Barca said, noting that the proposal would become law. "Let's do it right."
Guns would be banned from law enforcement offices, prisons, jails, courthouses, secure mental health facilities, and the areas of airports beyond security checkpoints. Guns would be allowed in city and state parks, an issue that raised concerns among some opponents of the bill.
Permit holders could carry guns in taverns and other places that sell alcohol, provided they were not drinking.
Under current law, guns are banned in schools, on school grounds and in school zones - the area 1,000 feet beyond school grounds. The bill would keep in place the ban on carrying guns in schools and on school grounds, but would allow permit holders to carry guns in areas just off school grounds.
Private businesses could post signs to keep guns out of their buildings. Signs could also be posted in government buildings, such as city halls and the state Capitol. But guns could not be banned from government-owned grounds, meaning they could be carried on the Capitol lawn or the Milwaukee Public Zoo.
Critics have raised concerns about how private groups and property owners will adjust to concealed carry.
State religious groups have said that the bill should have prohibited carrying concealed weapons in churches instead of requiring individual churches to post signs prohibiting concealed weapons. On May 24, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, Wisconsin Council of Churches, Wisconsin Jewish Council and the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin sent a letter to lawmakers asking them to ban concealed weapons in churches.
"We hold in common the conviction that our places of worship are islands of peace in a troubled world. .?.?. Houses of worship are places where we don't trust in 'might makes right,'?" the statement reads.
Catey Doyle, chief staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, said her organization currently has posted signs at its offices prohibiting visitors from carrying concealed weapons. The group, which provides legal representation to low-income clients, sometimes deals with contentious divorce and child custody cases.
But under the bill, private individuals and groups that allow concealed carry on their property would have blanket immunity from any legal liability from that decision. Groups and individuals who post signs prohibiting concealed weapons would not receive that immunity.
Because of the legal immunity issue, Legal Aid might remove its sign, Catey Doyle said. Catey Doyle, the sister of former Gov. Doyle, stressed she was giving her own opinion.
"I think we'll have to consider taking the sign down. We are very disturbed by this," she said.
Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), one of the lead sponsors of the measure, said that it left the law the same with regard to property owners who prohibit concealed weapons. He said that there's been no problem in other states with similar provisions.
"In other states this question has been raised and people have not stopped posting," Suder said.
Darren LaSorte, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, praised the Legislature for finally acting on the concealed carry legislation.
"For the first time, violent criminals are going to have to fear that their next attack might be their last," LaSorte said.
Permits that require training would cost a maximum of $50 and be valid for five years. Renewing a license would cost $25. To get a permit, people would have to offer proof they have passed a course on firearms training, firearms safety or hunter safety.
People with permits from other states could carry concealed weapons in Wisconsin as long as they had gone through training and a background check in their home state.
The money from the permits would be intended to cover the cost of staffing and building a database of permit holders. Those costs are estimated to total about $3 million over two years.
Whenever carrying concealed weapons, people would have to have permits and photo IDs with them.
Police could check the database of permit holders only to confirm the validity of a permit that someone produced or to investigate whether someone lied in applying for a permit. Police could not routinely check the database when pulling someone over.
The names of those who hold permits would not be available under the state's public records law.
The bill would also allow people to carry loaded, uncased guns in their cars. Now, guns are allowed in vehicles only if they are unloaded and kept in cases.