concealed carry iStock file photo
iStock photo

Assembly Republicans late Wednesday scrapped a bill that would have expanded who could bring guns into Wisconsin schools, a day before it was scheduled for a committee vote.

The move came after Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, introduced an amendment to allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to bring a gun to school. School and law enforcement officials immediately lined up against the proposal.

The original bill that was scheduled for a vote on Thursday would allow retired, out-of-state and off-duty police officers to also carry guns in school. Then Kleefisch said he would seek a vote on his amendment, which, if passed, would have been one of the most sweeping exemptions to weapons-free school zones in the nation.

Currently under Wisconsin law, weapons are banned on school grounds except for on-duty law enforcement officers.

Kleefisch said he met with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, on Wednesday, and they agreed to pull back the legislation. He said he needed more time to talk to law enforcement, educators and gun rights advocates.

“A good legislator knows when a bill or idea is not ready for prime time and this bill is not ready,” Kleefisch said Wednesday night. “We’re going to pull the bill back and continue the discussion about what we can do in the future to make sure that our schools and our children are not sitting ducks for those who care to do harm to them.”

Kleefisch did not offer a timeline for when a future bill would be introduced and said it was too early to say whether any future iteration of the bill would include concealed carry permit holders.

Kit Beyer, spokeswoman for Vos, told The Associated Press late Wednesday that the bill would not be voted on by the full Assembly, but declined to say why. The bill had been scheduled for final action by the Assembly on Tuesday.

Kleefisch’s proposed amendment to Assembly Bill 9 would have still allowed school boards to ban weapons on the grounds and buildings of their K-12 schools, said Larry Konopacki, an attorney with the nonpartisan Legislative Council.

The Assembly Criminal Justice Committee, which Kleefisch chairs, was scheduled to vote on AB 9 and proposed amendments Thursday morning. The bill had a public hearing Oct. 10 — before the amendment was proposed — so no public testimony was scheduled.

“The bottom line is, right now, someone with (the) intent to harm children knows they can attack a school without any weapons inside,” Kleefisch said in an interview earlier Wednesday explaining why he sought the amendment. “That bad actor doesn’t care about the law when he decides to take a gun on school grounds.”

Even so, Kleefisch acknowledged then he had not lined up the votes on the Republican-controlled committee to pass his amendment, which was opposed by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators and other education groups.

Steven Riffel, president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, said his group supported the bill but did not support Kleefisch’s amendment. He said the typical concealed carry permit holder is not trained to confront an armed intruder in a school.

“Police officers are highly trained,” said Riffel, chief of the Sheboygan Falls Police Department. “They take an oath. They’re certainly capable of handling dangerous situations. That’s what a police officer does on a daily basis.”

In all, 40 states have some type of exemption to weapons bans on school property, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of those allow police officers, security guards hired by the schools or others with permission from school officials to carry guns. Eight states allow any concealed carry permit holder to be armed in school, but two states, Kansas and Kentucky, let districts ban weapons by “conspicuously” posting signs on school grounds.

Kleefisch said he offered the proposal “to get the conversation going” about how to protect children in schools, which he called “soft targets.” The United States has seen a spate of mass school shootings in recent years, the worst of which occurred Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six educators were killed.

Committee member Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, called Kleefisch’s amendment “a terrible idea.”

Goyke said most of the 202,000 concealed carry permit holders do not have training in how to assess threats or how to defuse situations without violence. Goyke also noted that mass shootings sometimes occur in places where people carry weapons, such as the Nov 5, 2009, shooting at the Fort Hood, Texas, military base where 13 people were shot to death and 30 injured by a single gunman.

“These things happen anywhere, and more guns doesn’t make it safer,” Goyke said.

Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, Calif., said it would be an asset to a school to have trained and certified law enforcement officers who are armed. But Stephens is leery about arming teachers or having less well-trained members of the public “running around with guns.”

Despite all the public attention on shootings at school, Stephens said they remain “the safest places for children to be.” He said roughly 500 students have been killed at school over the past 20 years, which he called a “very, very small number” considering there are 130,000 public and private schools in the U.S.

Luis Yudice, school safety coordinator for the Madison School District, said allowing non-police officers to come onto school grounds armed would endanger children and staff. School personnel and students in Madison are trained to call 911 and go to a secure place if they see anyone besides a police officer with a gun, he said.

If other armed people are allowed to enter Madison schools, it could cause confusion and delay in identifying people who are threats, Yudice said. And arming teachers is no answer either, he said.

“We go back to our belief that the only people who should be able to carry weapons in schools are well-trained police officers,” Yudice said.

Dee J. Hall can be reached at dhall@madison.com or 608-252-6131; Jeff Glaze can be reached at jglaze@madison.com or 608-252-6138.

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