Crime and Courts: Legislature leans toward constitutional carry

2011-06-04T09:00:00Z 2012-05-22T17:49:01Z Crime and Courts: Legislature leans toward constitutional carrySTEVEN ELBOW | The Capital Times | selbow@madison.com madison.com

Of the two concealed-carry bills being bandied about in the state Legislature, the so-called "constitutional carry" bill in the Senate appears to have the upper hand.

A executive meeting scheduled for Thursday on the Assembly bill, which would require those carrying concealed weapons to obtain a license from the state Department of Justice, was canceled.

Andrew Nowlan, an aide for Rep. Jeffrey Mursau, R-Crivits, who authored the Assembly bill, says the Senate bill will likely get a vote in both houses.

"What the Senate version ends up being remains to be seen, so that's kind of why we held off," says Nowlan.

But Jen Esser, spokeswoman for Sen. Pam Galloway, R-Wausau, the author of the Senate concealed-carry bill, says the amendments are done and the bill is headed for a vote by the full Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's office didn't return a message asking if a date for the vote had been set.

The Senate bill was passed by the Judiciary Committee on a party line vote a week ago.

Currently, only Wisconsin and Illinois prohibit carrying concealed weapons. If Wisconsin passes the Senate version, it would join only four other states -- Arizona, Wyoming, Alaska and Vermont -- that allow concealed carry without a permit, widely known as constitutional carry.

Vermont is alone in not allowing for an optional permit.

Galloway's bill now includes a license that gun carriers could opt for that would allow them to skirt federal laws that ban firearms within 1,000 feet of a school, which suits gun advocates.

"Under the federal act, you can carry in a gun-free school zone if you have a permit issued from the state," says Auric Gold, who serves as secretary for the gun-rights group Wisconsin Carry.

The National Rifle Association, the driving force behind concealed-carry legislation across the country, backs Galloway's bill.

Like the Assembly version, her bill would allow guns on university and college campuses. But federal law would still prohibit guns on school grounds.

While the federal gun-free school zone rule is rarely enforced, Gold says, the permit would allow those carrying guns near schools to avoid potential legal hassles.

"It might be a choice people would want because if you live near a school or you commute through a school zone or something like that, then probably for your own legal benefit it would be good to have a permit and not take any chances," he says.

The bill also allows guns in public buildings, excluding courtrooms, police stations, sheriff's offices and correctional facilities. Public buildings would be off-limits if signs are posted stating that weapons are prohibited.

While Galloway, the bill's author, said at a hearing on the bill last week that she would support allowing guns at the Capitol, some of her colleagues in the Senate -- all of whom have received threats in recent months over Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to strip public workers of virtually all of their bargaining rights -- have expressed concern about it.

"Do you think guns should be allowed in the Capitol?" Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, asked her at the committee meeting.

"Yes, I do," she said.

When asked by Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, to repeat the answer, she backed off slightly, saying it should be up to each administration to decide.

On the local level, as Gold points out, either cash-strapped municipalities would have to equip and man weapons-screening stations or they would have to permit weapons.

"I don't know how many municipalities are going to try to set up weapons screenings," he says. "It might not really be cost-effective for them to have somebody occasionally carrying a firearm into the building. I don't know why they'd want to maintain full-time security just for the occasional person coming in carrying a concealed firearm."

What the bill would cost is up in the air. Most of the fiscal reports from various state agencies say they don't have the information to come up with solid estimates. The State Public Defenders Office says repealing the misdemeanor offense of going armed with a concealed and dangerous weapon could save the agency about $102,000 a year, based on the 416 adult and 52 juvenile defendants the office represented on the charge in 2010.

The Department of Administration, which would be in charge of providing security at state office buildings, reported: "At this time, it is unknown to what extent the Department of Administration would place electronic screening for weapons at the public entrances to the state office buildings and facilities owned or leased by the department."

Probably the most interesting estimate is from the Department of Natural Resources, which noted that the bill lifts the prohibition against shining animals -- the practice of freezing an animal in its tracks with a bright light -- while in possession of a handgun.

"The department anticipates there will be an increase in complaints and incidents of individuals hunting from vehicles and roadways with shotguns, rifles, handguns, bows and crossbows as a result of this bill allowing individuals to possess these weapons loaded and uncased in or on any vehicle. The department also would expect to see an increase in illegal shooting of wild animals, such as deer, by individuals who will be allowed to possess loaded, uncased handguns while shining wild animals, regardless of whether they are shining from a vehicle or not."

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that under the Senate bill public buildings must allow weapons unless all entrances are equipped with electronic weapons screening. The bill was amended to say that public buildings are required to post signs informing people that weapons are prohibited.

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