‘Permitless’ carry on horizon?

By Dan Hansen

Contributing Writer

Madison — Momentum is building in states across the country to allow law-abiding adults to carry a concealed handgun, among other tools for personal protection, without having to pay a fee or obtain a license.

Currently 14 states – from Vermont to Alaska – allow “permitless” carry, and nearly 20 other states, including Wisconsin, are considering similar legislation.

On March 28 Sen. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon, and Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, introduced the Right to Carry Act (LRB 2039/1) in the Legislature.

The bill would allow for the concealed carry of a firearm – without a concealed carry license – anywhere in the state where an individual may legally carry a firearm. LRB 2039/1 would also expand the list of places where firearm owners can legally carry.

The bill would not eliminate the existing concealed carry licensing system. That permit would remain an option so citizens could obtain a license and take advantage of reciprocity agreements with other states.

Detailing the motivation behind the bill, Sen. Craig said, “At its essence, this bill does two things: removes barriers to the exercise of a constitutional right and simplifies the law. If you decide to carry a weapon to protect yourself or your family, you should be able to do so easily – without bureaucratic hurdles and without cost.

“We already give people the ability to openly carry a firearm without a license. With this bill, law-abiding citizens will have the same right to carry discreetly that they currently have to carry openly. If you decide to throw on a coat, you should not be considered a criminal,” he added.

Key provisions

This bill also eliminates prohibitions against carrying firearms in specified places, but retains the current law that allows certain persons to post buildings and grounds so that individuals who carry a firearm in violation of the posting commit trespass.

For instance, this bill eliminates the prohibition on carrying a firearm on school grounds for those with a license;  those without a license would be able to carry a concealed weapon in a school zone. Craig said that provision was included so that parents who carry aren’t breaking the law when they pick up and drop off their children at school.

Instead, the bill allows schools to post their buildings and grounds under the trespass laws. An individual who violates the trespassing provision is guilty of a Class C misdemeanor if the individual is in a posted school building and a Class B forfeiture if the individual is on the posted grounds of a school.

Likewise, the proposed bill would allow law-abiding adults to carry a firearm in other buildings, such as a police station, a house of correction, or a secure mental health facility, but also allows the appropriate governmental entity to post the buildings against carrying a firearm.

This bill also eliminates the prohibition against carrying a firearm, bow, or crossbow in a wildlife refuge and would allow carrying a firearm, bow, or crossbow while engaging in certain activities, such as operating an ATV. This bill would still prohibit citizens from shining wildlife while hunting, but would allow shining by an individual who is in possession of a firearm, bow and arrow, or crossbow.

Laws generally prohibit the possession of electric weapons, known as tasers. This bill would allow law-abiding citizens to carry tasers, while maintaining the prohibition for individuals who are not legally entitled to possess a firearm.

Supporters, opponents

Republicans in the Legislature generally support the bill, while Democrats mostly oppose it.

As of April 11, the bill had 34 Assembly co-sponsors; 11 in the Senate. The Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association and Wisconsin Firearm Owners also support the legislation.

“For the last six years, our members and other citizens have shown that carrying concealed weapons can be done safely and without incident,” said  Wisconsin Firearm Owners President Mike Stewart. “It is time to take the next step to allow us to enjoy our constitutional right without going through an elaborate system of fees and regulations. Wisconsin will be safer with the passage of the Right to Carry bill.”

In a release supporting the bill, the NRA said the proposal does not change who can legally carry a concealed gun in Wisconsin: “Anyone convicted of a felony or misdemeanor domestic violence, adjudicated mentally ill, dishonorably discharged from the military, or under 21, is not legally allowed to possess a firearm, and that remains so under LRB 2039.”

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