Monday, October 20th, 2014

'Safeguards' in Wisconsin's concealed carry bill put it in mainstream

Wisconsin is poised to become the 49th state that allows residents to more freely carry guns.
Wisconsin is poised to become the 49th state that allows residents to more freely carry guns.

When concealed carry passed the Wisconsin Legislature on June 21, 2011, one aspect of the legislation was cited by both supporters and critics of the measure as a reason for their votes:

Safeguards.

"The safeguards provided in this bill will ensure the balance between individual liberty and public safety is maintained," state Rep. Richard Spanbauer, R-Oshkosh, said in explaining his yes vote.

Meanwhile, Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, who voted no, complained that the bill contained "minimal safeguards."

With Gov. Scott Walker expected to sign the measure, which the National Rifle Association called "one of the nation’s strongest right-to-carry license bills," Wisconsin would become the 49th state that allows the concealed carry of guns and other weapons such as Tasers.

The emotional debate has died down for the moment.

But with so many charges and counter charges, we decided to give the Truth-O-Meter a day off. Instead, we’ll examine the safeguards in the bill and see how they compare to those in other states.

First, a little background.

For now, it is generally illegal in Wisconsin to "go armed with a concealed and dangerous weapon," according to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau. Exceptions are made for law enforcement officers, business owners while at their place of business and for others.

For years, Democrats have blocked efforts to repeal Wisconsin’s concealed weapons ban. But a new opportunity for guns rights advocates emerged after the November 2010 elections, when Walker won the governor’s office and fellow Republicans took control of the Senate and Assembly.

Six months later, Sen. Pam Galloway, R-Wausau, introduced a bill that some call "constitutional carry" because -- in a reference to the Second Amendment’s declaration that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" -- it would have allowed for the concealed carrying of weapons without requirements for licenses or training.

The bill awaiting Walker’s signature, however, was amended to include safeguards -- the ones Spanbauer touted and Roys criticized as insufficient.

(A quick aside: In the hours before the Legislature’s June 21 approval of concealed carry, radio stations in Milwaukee and Madison broadcast comments Roys made saying the measure contains "absolutely no safeguards." She had made the comments June 4, reportedly in response to a question about how Walker favored adding safeguards to the bill.)

The safeguards in the Wisconsin bill are addressed in a memo by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Council.

For other states, we consulted the NRA, which fights restrictions on the right to bear arms; and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a national organization that advocates for laws that, among other things, require criminal background checks on all guns sales and limit the number of guns that can be purchased at one time.

Licensing process

Wisconsin’s concealed carry bill would put the Badger State among the majority of the states that require licensing, although its licensing wouldn’t be as stringent as it is in 10 of those states.

The state Department of Justice would be required to issue permits to residents 21 and over who got training and cleared background checks that showed they were not felons or otherwise prohibited from carrying guns.

That means Wisconsin would become the 35th "shall issue" state, said Brian Malte, director of state legislation for the Brady organization.

Conversely, 10 states have a "may issue" law, which gives discretion to law enforcement agencies in issuing concealed carry permits, Malte said.

None of those 10 states is in the Midwest, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

So, Wisconsin would make 45 concealed carry states that require licensing. Four other states -- Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and, starting in July 2011, Wyoming -- do not require a license, according to the Brady Campaign’s 2010 "scorecard" and the news release issued by the NRA touting the Wisconsin legislation.

Once Wisconsin’s bill is signed into law, only Illinois will prohibit concealed carry.

Training requirements

Wisconsin would be among the majority of states that require training, although particular training requirements vary among states.

Wisconsin’s bill would require a person to be trained in firearm use. The training could be obtained a number of ways, including through hunter safety training provided state Department of Natural Resources and a firearms training or safety course conducted by a law enforcement agency or an organization that certifies firearms instructors.

Currently, 28 states require training, said NRA spokeswoman Rachel Parsons.

But, like licensing, training requirements aren’t uniform among states. Wisconsin, for example, would not require that a person actually fire a gun as part of the training, according to a question-and-answer memo about the bill prepared by the Wisconsin Legislative Council. In contrast, according to Malte of the Brady organization, Texas requires shooting range training while Virginia allows training to be done online.

Access to license holder list

Wisconsin, at least generally speaking, would be in line with other states in terms of law enforcement access to the concealed carry database.

Under the Wisconsin bill, the Department of Justice would have to maintain a computerized database of concealed carry license holders. The database could be accessed by a law enforcement officer only for specified reasons, such as to confirm that a person’s concealed carry license is valid.

All concealed carry states allow law enforcement access to their concealed carry database, but the reasons officers need to get access vary, Malte said.