Wisconsin "right-to-carry" weapons bill passes committee

Law allows concealed weapons without a permit

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Concealed weapons could be carried in Wisconsin without a permit under a "right-to-carry" bill headed to the state Senate for a vote as soon as next month.

The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee voted 3-2 along party lines Tuesday to pass the measure. Democrats objected, saying it didn't make sense to allow for the carrying of deadly weapons without any training or licensing requirements.

"This bill supports the people who want to weaken firearms laws, and I think we should strengthen them," said Democratic Sen. Fred Risser, of Madison. "We have a problem in this country with too much liberalization of firearms laws and this just adds to it."

Current state law requires anyone who carries a concealed weapon to obtain a permit and get training. The bill retains that license for people who want to obtain it, but also allows for the carrying of a concealed weapon without obtaining a permit.

The proposal also would allow for the carrying of concealed firearms in — or within 5 feet of — a vehicle on school property. Concealed weapons could be brought onto school grounds when there are no classes or activities happening at the school. Only licensed concealed weapons holders could bring them onto school grounds under these terms.

The bill would also remove the current general prohibition on possession electric weapons, commonly known as Tasers. Those are allowed under current law only for people with concealed license permits; the bill would allow anyone to have them.

Additionally, felons or anyone who isn't allowed to currently own a gun would be allowed to own firearms made before 1898 or muzzleloaders — weapons that are loaded from the open end of the gun barrel.

More than 331,000 people in Wisconsin have active concealed weapons licenses, which the state legalized in 2011. A license would still be needed for a person to carry a concealed weapon into another state or in areas subject to federal gun laws, such as schools.

If passed and signed into law, Wisconsin would become the 13th state to allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit. North Dakota became the most recent state to enact such a law, sometimes referred to as "constitutional carry," earlier this year.

The Wisconsin measure was introduced by two Republicans, Rep. Mary Felzkowski, of Irma, and Sen. Dave Craig, of Town of Vernon. It is co-sponsored by 50 of the Legislature's 84 Republicans. Backers say requiring permits and firearm training restricts Second Amendment constitutional rights. The National Rifle Association and four other gun-rights groups and shooting ranges registered in support of the bill.

The measure has generated bipartisan opposition from within the Legislature, as well as 28 groups that have registered against it, including the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators, the Wisconsin Medical Society and the Wisconsin Council of Churches.

Opponents say that limits can be placed on those rights, and that the state's concealed weapon law is reasonable.

Gov. Scott Walker has voiced reservations, saying in June that he was "comfortable" with the current system requiring concealed weapon carriers to get training and obtain a license. Walker hasn't said whether he would sign the bill should it pass both the Senate and Assembly.
Committee Chairman Sen. Van Wanggaard, a Racine Republican, said he expected the bill to pass the Legislature and be signed by Walker, but he had no assurances.

"This is good policy," said Wanggaard, a retired police officer who was carrying a concealed handgun during the meeting. "It makes sense. It's common sense."

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