To permit or not permit? That is the concealed question

Wisconsin and Illinois are the only states that make the concealed carry of a weapon illegal. But that will soon change in the Badger State.

A Republican-controlled Assembly committee discussed its version of concealed carry last week (after a May 12 public hearing held in Wausau) and the Senate is ready with its own version. If they pass the both full chambers, Gov. Scott Walker has promised to sign it into law.

Current Wisconsin law forbids anyone from carrying a concealed weapon, ever. The law does provide exceptions for police officers and business owners who can prove their need for the weapon outweighs the state’s interest to restrict it. Concealed weapons are also banned from public buildings, taverns, state parks, wildlife refuges and within 1,000 feet of a school.

The Republican majority and Walker agree that Wisconsinites should be able to carry a concealed weapon. They say it will make us all safer, especially since the criminals won’t know who’s packing.

“It’s time for Wisconsin to fully recognize the right of all its citizens to preserve their security and the security of their families,” said Rep. Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz), the author of the Assembly version of the bill. “Criminals in Wisconsin are going to have to start asking themselves if their potential crimes are worth the risk encountering someone ready to fully defend themselves.”

Versions of concealed carry have been passed twice before, in 2004 and 2006, but they were vetoed by then-Gov. Jim Doyle.

This afternoon, the Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss their own bill, SB 93. Working off a version authored by freshman Senator Pam Galloway (R-Wausau), it takes some of the points agreed to in the Assembly and melds them into something beyond simple concealed carry – constitutional carry.

Concealed carry is exactly what it sounds like: the ability to carry a hidden weapon – gun, knife (no switchblades), electric weapons and billy clubs. The Assembly bill allows for people to “go armed” in their homes, businesses or on their land. It would require citizens to be 21 years of age, a resident of the state and not have any legal reasons or mental illness issues that would bar them from owning a gun or obtaining a permit.

The legislation requires a background check , and considers a concealed carry license issued by another state valid in Wisconsin. It would also require state law enforcement agencies to issue or renew certification cards for retired police or federal officers living in the state, allowing them to also conceal carry.

But it is the permit question for citizens that is splitting the typically solid Republican caucus. The Senate version keeps most of the Assembly provisions but drops one – the required permit.

A new movement among the concealed carry lobby is the idea of “constitutional carry.”  This type of carry blends the tenets of the First and Second Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Followers argue that we have the freedom of religion and assembly, which allow us to gather together and worship or associate with whom we want without any government intrusion or permit. They hold that the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, and there should be no restriction on carrying a weapon.

According to Richard Church, a contributor to, concealed carry is a natural right, given by God.

“The only legitimate function of government is to recognize and protect the rights of those under its jurisdiction,” Church writes. “See the Declaration of Independence. Any requirement to obtain a permit to exercise a right is, at least, an infringement of that right and, at worst, an outright denial of it.”

Additionally, the Wisconsin State Constitution, Article 1, Section 25 allows for the open carry of weapons. This was approved in 1997 on a statewide referendum, garnering 79 percent of the vote. Concealed carry advocates say open carry reduces the security that a hidden weapon provides.

The senate would also eliminate gun training requirements, but allow a special permit to conceal carry within a 1,000-foot school zone (but not on school grounds), and carry in other states under a reciprocity agreement. If the bill passes, the only criteria for constitutional carry is being 21 and having no legal or mental barrier to owning a gun.

Vermont, Alaska and Arizona are the only states that currently allow constitutional carry.

Galloway says the Senate Bill 93 is the best of both worlds.

Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wauwau)

“We’ve really got the ideal bill for the state of Wisconsin.”

But not everyone is thrilled with the idea of citizens wearing a shoulder holster under their jackets.

Jim Palmer, head of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, calls constitutional carry “absurd” and says that his membership is opposed to it.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn opposes constitutional carry outright as well as concealed carry — unless the legislature puts some teeth in it.  He has suggested that the law include felony penalties if someone is carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and for someone who conducts a “straw buy,” purchasing a gun for someone who isn’t legally allowed to own one.

“The bills as currently drafted put the lives of my officers at risk. They have to presume that when they approach someone on the street they’re lawfully carrying.”

Sen. John Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said most people would still go out and obtain gun training, but he worries about those who don’t.

“Where’s the safety for everybody else here?” he asked.

The Legislative Accountability Board has released a poll noting various communities and organizations position on SB 90. The results would probably be similar with SB 93 and AB 126. No surprises, the legislation is supported by the National Rifle Association;  Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Ranges, Clubs and Educators; the Safari Club and the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association.

Opposition is coming from the the Wisconsin School Social Workers Association, Wisconsin Public Health Association, Wisconsin Medical Society, Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, Inc. and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, among others.


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