Battle Brewing in Badger State Over Concealed Carry Bill

An ongoing legislative push to allow concealed carry in the state of Wisconsin overcame another hurdle yesterday, as a bill was narrowly approved by a three-two vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The newest incarnation of the measure, which is essentially the merging of two separate bills written by Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wausau), would permit any resident age 21 and older to carry a concealed weapon without any training or registration.

The bill does exclude concealed carry for felons and those currently prohibited from possessing firearms. In addition, the current bill includes provisions for an optional permit for those who wish to carry in close proximity to schools, and prohibits carry in jails, prisons, courthouses, law enforcement buildings, and secured airport areas. The measure has been met with stiff opposition, and has catalyzed a contentious debate surrounding the merits of what many consider to be an extremely unrestricted version of the practice.

Pam Galloway, author of the original two bills, struck an optimistic tone in defense of the legislation, stating, “It’s really got the best of both worlds…We’ve really got the ideal bill for the state of Wisconsin.” Galloway went on to defend the merits of arming citizens, asserting, “The police can’t be everywhere…The sheriff can’t be everywhere.”

Sharp political divisions have become the recent standard in the Badger State, and the hot-button issue of concealed carry has predictably drawn a chorus of outcry from the usual places. Democrat Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) echoed concern from his colleagues over the lack of a training requirement for those carrying concealed guns, asking, “Where’s the safety for everybody else here?”

Criticism of the bill also surfaced from some surprising constituencies, including the Wisconsin Police Association who, to date, had never opposed an attempt to legalize concealed carry in the state. Jim Palmer, executive director of the Association, lambasted the proposed measure, saying, “This bill is just reckless.” Palmer went on to assert that the police officers union could not stand behind a bill that made no provisions for safety training, licensing, and police access to a list of permitted concealed carriers.

The proposed bill has led some legislators to break ranks with their respective parties, as several Democrats have pledged to support the bill, while Sen. Luther Olsen, a Republican, has said he will vote against it.

Republican Governor Scott Walker, whose party currently enjoys a legislative majority, is expected to support a concealed carry measure, although he recently stated that he will “reserve the right to take a look at that [bill]” if and when it reaches his desk. In any case, it appears that the battle over concealed carry in the has just begun in the 30th state. Wisconsin and Illinois are the only remaining states that do not permit some form or concealed carry.