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Law enforcement leery about concealed-carry legislation

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Darryl Enriquez
Ted Sullivan
May 15, 2011

Law enforcement officials in Rock and Walworth counties are worried about pending legislation that would legalize the carrying of concealed weapons.


Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden and Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said concealed carry could risk public safety.


“I think it escalates every conflict that individuals are going to be involved in to a very dangerous level,” Spoden said. “I don’t think it will decrease the level of violence in Wisconsin. To the contrary, I think it will increase the level of violence in the state.”


Walworth County Sheriff David Graves expressed concern about how a concealed carry law would be implemented.


“We know it’s going to happen,” Graves said. “We just want to make it safe and workable to everybody.”


Carrying concealed weapons would be legalized under bills pending in the state Legislature. Wisconsin and Illinois are the only states that don't allow concealed carry. None of the bills would require training for carriers.


“My primary concern is for the safety of the officers in the field and the citizens they encounter,” Moore said. “From a police perspective, I would like the only people out in the public with guns to be trained police officers.”


Nik Clark, president of Wisconsin Carry, said people would be safer from criminals, and fewer crimes would be committed if concealed carry was legal.


“It’s a deterring factor,” Clark said. “It gives people the right to defend themselves.”


He said many law enforcement officials know they can’t protect everyone, and they favor the bills.


“There are a lot of officers that really do support the right to carry,” Clark said. “It’s sometimes just the leadership that does not.”


One bill would allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon except convicted felons, convicted domestic abusers and others qualifying for certain restrictions.


Another bill would require a five-year permit from the Wisconsin Department of Justice. People at least 21 would have to undergo a background check and pay fees.


Moore said people should have to undergo background checks, training and fingerprinting. He said they also should be photographed.


Moore believes carriers should be in a database to let law enforcement know if people might be armed. He said people also should have to tell law enforcement if they’re carrying.


Spoden said allowing concealed carry creates too many unknown risks.


“It is going to put a certain level of stress on every interaction a police officer has with the public,” Spoden said. “It is going to put a certain degree of uncertainty in every call that officer takes. We’ll have to assume that everyone we come in contact with is carrying a firearm.”


Clark said he supports the version of the bill that would not mandate permits, training or other requirements. He said gun owners already know how to handle firearms and don’t want to pay government fees.


“A lot of people don’t like the fact that they have to go register with the government if you want to carry a firearm,” Clark said. “It should be for everyone.”


The Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association stated in a letter that violent criminals and people convicted of misdemeanor battery, stalking or sexual assault would be allowed to carry under the bill.


“This bill allows just about anyone to carry a loaded gun just about anywhere in public, even though research shows that allowing more people to carry guns in more places will lead to one thing—more tragedies,” said Stoughton Police Chief Greg Leck, president of the association.


“There is a reason Wisconsin's violent crime rate and firearm death rate is much lower than the national averages. It makes no sense to adopt the policies of states that have more crime, more violence and more gun deaths.”


Graves was reluctant to say where he stood on the issue. He’s waiting to see the first version of the bill that makes it through the Legislature before giving it a thumbs up or down.


“It’s too early to make a comment on it,” he said. “I’m not totally against concealed and carry.”


Graves said he’s leery about how the law will be structured. Graves wants a uniform system in place for all 72 Wisconsin counties to issue concealed carry permits.


Each county should not decide how permits are issued, he said.


“You don’t want 72 different cards,” he said. “That’s not good for law enforcement.”


Graves suggested that instead of each sheriff’s office handling the application and issuing permits, the state should set a standardized identification, such as a marking putting permit stamps on driver’s licenses, as it does motorcycle operating or the requirement to wear corrective lenses.


Delavan Police Chief Tim O’Neill said he supports the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association.


“It’s a feeling that we don’t need more guns on the street,” O’Neill said.


Spoden said the bills have been proposed with little discussion with law enforcement, who would enforce the law. He said the issue is not about gun rights.


“It’s really about safety,” Spoden said. “I think this bill is kind of reckless, and I think it’s going to endanger safety.”


LEGISLATORS ON CONCEALED CARRY

The Gazette asked area legislators for their positions on pending concealed carry legislation:


Rep.-elect David Craig, R-Big Bend:

“I support concealed and carry because it’s part of our Constitution. The Second Amendment guarantees our right to bear arms, and concealed and carry is contained in that amendment. From a practical standpoint, I believe it’s a good deterrent against criminal activity that preys on the innocent.”


Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville:

Cullen said he will vote against concealed-carry legislation and what he calls the more aggressive version, constitutional carry.


“I think people who carry guns have rights, but people who do not carry guns have rights, too,” Cullen said. “I don’t see this legislation as intended to balance those two. I also think we need to listen to law enforcement, and I just don’t think that people in our society should be walking down streets or going into buildings and not knowing whether the people they come upon are armed or not.”


Cullen said he believes the Republicans will have their way on this issue, as they will with another current bill, the so-called voter ID bill. He questioned whether the right direction is to restrict the right to vote while expanding the right to carry concealed weapons.


“This is one of those classic clashes of rights,” Cullen said. “The general rule in our society, I think, has been that I have a right to do what I want do until it comes to the point that it interferes with your right.”


Society should try to balance those rights, and these bills make little attempt to do that, Cullen said.


Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton:

Declined to comment


Sen. Neal Kedzie R-Elkhorn:

“Two versions of concealed-carry legislation have been introduced; one which requires licensing and one which does not. The non-licensing bill—commonly referred to as ‘constitutional carry’—is the truest measure which allows citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights, and the bill I am currently supporting.


“However, I also have a record of supporting concealed-carry legislation that requires permits and other such standards, and certainly understand the arguments for the licensed concealed-carry bill. Both bills will be given appropriate scrutiny by the Legislature. In the end, I will support whichever bill can garner the necessary votes in which to pass.”


Rep. Joe Knilans, R-Janesville:

Knilans said he finds himself in the middle of two concealed carry proposals, one that doesn’t require a permit and weapons training and one that does.


If he ultimately supports the bill that requires permits, he said he wants to make sure permits issued to Wisconsin residents are valid in all other states that allow concealed carry. And he wants a system where fees for Wisconsin permits stay in Wisconsin.


On the training issue, Knilans believes people who are trained better understand the liability of carrying a weapon and restrict their carrying to situations where they feel threatened.


But he’s also concerned about trampling constitutional rights.


“I’m an advocate of some training, but the Second Amendment doesn’t say you have the right to bear arms if you’ve had training.”


If permitting and training become part of the law, Knilans said he wants to make sure they are uniform across the state to ensure that it’s not easier or more difficult to get a permit or train in different communities.


Sen. Mary Lazich R-New Berlin:

“I have consistently supported concealed-carry legislation, and I am a sponsor of the two conceal-carry bills before the Legislature. Concealed-carry legislation affirms law-abiding citizens’ the right to protect themselves.


“In the event a permit is required, I support the state Department of Justice issuing permits. The state Department of Justice’s administration of permits allows for uniformity and eliminates a local government mandate.”


Rep. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville:

“As your state representative, I will defend your constitutional right to keep and bear arms. However, I also believe that firearms do not belong in places like our schools, businesses and recreational facilities. If we are going to allow citizens to carry concealed firearms, we must include certain safety precautions such as permits, background checks, and training.”


State Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater:

Wynn is a former U.S. Army paratrooper who characterizes himself as “very conservative” on constitutional issues. He’s cosponsoring Sen. Pam Galloway’s “constitutional carry” bill, which would allow concealed carry without fees or permits.


Wynn said he believes people should be allowed to carry weapons without being registered in police databases and that mandated training and permits for concealed carry would be extraneous and a government overreach.


“We don’t make people pass a speech 101 class to earn the freedom of speech, the First Amendment,” Wynn said.


Wynn said he’s reviewed concealed carry permit procedures in states such as New York, where fees and requirements vary by county but can include mental health screenings and months-long waiting periods for people who want to carry a concealed weapon.


“It makes people jump through so many hoops that they give up and don’t get a permit,” Wynn said.


Wynn indicated that weapons training for concealed carry should be optional.


“Usually, people don’t buy a gun unless they know how to use one,” he said.


Correction: The headline on this story was corrected from an earlier version which read Law enforcement against open carry legislation

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