Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Concealed carry bill drawing heated debate

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series that
looks at Wisconsin’s Senate Bill 357, a “shall issue” law that
would allow law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed firearm. In
this issue, correspondent Corey Graff will look at the Wisconsin
Personal Protection Act, its design, the supporters and detractors
and the hearings. In part 2, Graff will look at “shall issue”
concealed carry laws compared to the “Vermont style,” gun lobbies
and their strategies, and why many gun owners say the PPA is a step
backwards for gun rights. Part 3 will discuss law enforcement
officers and concealed carry, and statistical analysis of concealed
carry on violent crime by Professor John Lott.

By Corey Graff

Correspondent

Madison When it comes to controversial legislative issues, there
may be nothing hotter now than the idea of allowing law-abiding
Badger Staters to start packin’ heat.

Wisconsin is one of only six states in which no provision exists
in the law to permit some means of carrying a concealed firearm any
weapon, but usually a handgun for personal protection.

Supporters say “bearing” arms is their right. Detractors say
allowing people to carry guns would turn roadside fender-benders
into Wild West shootouts. Professor John R. Lott, in his
statistical analysis on the effects of concealed carry on crime and
the resulting book, More Guns, Less Crime, says when people can
return fire, criminals make a run for the border and crime drops
precipitously, resulting in a “tremendous net benefit” to
society.

But if Sen. Dave Zien (R-Eau Claire), gets his way, the
long-awaited Personal Protection Act (PPA) could be signed into
state law as early as March 15. If that happens, county sheriffs
will conduct background checks on applicants, who must then pass a
mandatory firearms training course. This process and licensing
system would be in place within a year.

“One of the biggest movements in the capital since the helmet
law was repealed in 1977-78 is the Personal Protection Act. In
other words, there are more letters and phone calls for the PPA,”
Zien said.

“Wisconsin has passed three of the four big gun laws in five
years,” he said. “No other state has done that we were a state in
1848 that took us a 150 years to get the right to keep and bear
arms in our state’s constitution. Now we have it. The biggest one
is concealed carry, the fourth one, our Personal Protection Act and
this is a both barrels blazin’ effort to get it passed into law and
we are only in session until March 15. We are doing everything we
can to get it passed.”

But Jim Fendry, of the Wisconsin Pro Gun Movement, isn’t so
optimistic.

“The problem has been that Sen. Chuck Chvala (D-Madison), the
majority leader, wants nothing to do with people who own guns,”
Fendry said. “He is extremely anti-gun, or at least he’s shown this
to us in the past over the years, and he just won’t allow it to
come up on the floor for a vote. In fact, if and when Sen. Gary
George (D-Milwaukee) actually gives us a public hearing, he’ll
probably be subject to some rebuke from his leader, Chuck Chvala,
for even allowing it to get that far.

Some say Chvala seems to be a lone wolf politician standing in
the way of personal protection advocates and even law enforcement
professionals who support concealed carry in Wisconsin. That
includes Zien’s “Magnum Summits” and Rep. Scott Suder’s Criminal
Justice Committee hearings that took place Feb. 12 and Feb. 14,
according to Dick Baker, treasurer of the Wisconsin Concealed Carry
Association.

Chvala’s office did not return three requests for an
interview.

How will the PPA, if passed, affect gun owners, and even hunters
in the state?

Currently, the penalty for unlawfully carrying a concealed
weapon is a misdemeanor charge, with a maximum fine of $10,000 and
not more than nine months imprisonment. Fendry said the PPA would
not just affect people who wish to carry a sidearm for protection.
He said many well-meaning people, often hunters, are not aware
they’re carrying a concealed weapon illegally.

“What we must do is make sure it stays a misdemeanor, because
too many people inadvertently, and unknowingly, get pinched,”
Fendry said. “Almost all of our hunters in Wisconsin who drive
around in a truck put their unloaded shotgun, in a case, and then
stick the (cased) shotgun behind the back seat. Or if they’ve got a
topper, sometimes they will put their hunting rifles in the bed of
their truck and then put a blanket or their hunting coat over these
guns. They are then carrying concealed when they do that.

“A lot of people unknowingly carry concealed weapons because the
law doesn’t say that the firearm has to be totally out of view. Any
time a person is carrying a firearm under their immediate control
it doesn’t have to be on their person and it’s concealed, then they
are violating.

The proposed Personal Protection Act, a “shall-issue” style of
concealed carry law, would give sheriffs the authority to issue
permits to people, provided that they pass a criminal background
check and pay what is now slated as a $75 application fee. The $75
license is good for five years and the fee breakdown goes like
this: $15 goes toward the Law Enforcement Excellence Fund; $15 goes
to range protection, which will be administered by the DNR; about
$8 will be used for the background check. The remaining money will
be allocated to sheriff’s department offices for administrative
costs.

The required firearms training course would be operated by
NRA-certified instructors. That cost, still to be determined, would
be the responsibility of the applicant.

The proposed law would not require each county to implement the
program. An applicant would then be forced to apply in a
participating county if the county in which they live refuses to
run background checks. Zien does not anticipate that being a
problem, however.

“We know of all kinds of counties that will participate and they
will also be recipients of the Law Enforcement Excellence Fund.
They see this as a source of revenue. If no county sheriffs
participated, the PPA would be null and void, but that doesn’t seem
practical since it takes two-thirds of the county board to say no,
not just the sheriff,” he said.

Part 2 of this series will look at the issue of political
compromise, strategies by various gun lobbies and the politicians
involved. At issue will be “shall issue” style of law versus the
Vermont style of “may issue” laws.

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