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Signs of the times: Rock County tackles concealed carry complications

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Catherine W. Idzerda
November 13, 2011
— Who knew it would be so complicated?

Wisconsin's concealed carry law allows local units of government to decide if concealed weapons will be allowed in the buildings under their care.


But if towns, cities or counties have rules more restrictive than the state's, they have to make sure they're legally covered. In most cases, the covering is plastic or aluminum signs reading, "No firearms or weapons in building."


Nick Osborne, Rock County assistant to the administrator, worked with the county's legal team to draft an ordinance regulating concealed weapons on county property.


"One of the first steps we took was to contact the department heads and ask them what they wanted," Osborne said.


They received a unanimous reply: no weapons in buildings.


To make that legal, state law requires signs be posted at all entry doors.


The county spent $3,420 to buy 733 signs.


At the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds, the county has posted signs reading, "No firearms or weapons in building," at each entry door for every building on the grounds, including the garage doors for vendor spaces under the grandstand. The signs ban all weaponsóconcealed or not.


But concealed weapons cannot be banned on the fairgrounds as a whole unless a request is made by a group that intends to use the grounds and restrict entry. During the Rock County 4-H Fair, for example, the Rock County Fair Board could request that concealed weapons be banned during the fair.


But a group using one building and not restricting entry to the grounds cannot request that concealed carry be banned everywhere on the grounds during its event.


Different signs were made for the Craig Center on the fairgrounds, which often is used for gun shows. Those signs read: "No concealed weapons in building."


Parks are different. Because they are not enclosed by a fence and because entry is not restricted, concealed carry cannot be banned in public parks.


Concealed carry can be banned from park buildings, however, including bathrooms.


Throughout the process, Osborne said he and the county's legal counsel were trying to balance their legal obligations with a rational response.


"We didn't want to get ridiculous with this," Osborne said.


They also were working under a deadline; they wanted to have everything in place by the time the law went into effect Nov. 1.


"We probably were a little bit more conservative than we needed to be," Osborne said.


In other words, they operated under the "better safe than sorry/sued" rule, making sure all their doors were covered.


The cost of making it clear

If a local unit of government wants to restrict concealed weapons in its buildings beyond the provision of state statutes, it must post signs at every entry door.


State statutes ban concealed weapons in jails, courthouses, police departments, secured mental health units or secured mental health institutions and courthouses. Those buildings do not have to be signed, but many jurisdictions are putting up signs in those buildings, as well.


Rock County General Services Manager Rob Leu said the county bought:


-- 628 5-by-7 inch signs reading, "No firearms or weapons in building." Each sign has a pictogram with a gun and a knife in a circle with a slash through the middle. Each sign cost $5.19 for a total of $3,259.


-- 100 clear, stick-on signs with the same wording and pictograms. Each sticker cost $1.35 for a total cost of $135.


-- Five 5-by-7 signs reading, "No concealed weapons in building" for $5.19 each. Total cost was $25.95. These signs will be placed on the entry doors to the Craig Center on the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds because the Craig Center sometimes hosts guns shows.



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