Analysis: Push for action on Wis. gun law

By AL SWANSON, United Press International  |  Dec. 28, 2004 at 6:11 PM
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Wisconsin, a state where hunting is as common as driving a car, is under pressure to lift a 130-year-old state prohibition on concealed weapons so retired law-enforcement officers and others can carry firearms under a federal law.

Gov. Jim Doyle created a gun lobby backlash nearly a year ago with his successful veto of a measure that would have permitted concealed carry in Wisconsin.

A pro-gun Democratic state representative who is a firearms owner and member of the National Rifle Association provided the margin that sustained Doyle's veto in the state Assembly, but proponents of concealed carry have promised to step up efforts to get it passed in 2005.

A bill with fewer exceptions may be introduced as early as January.

Rep. Gary Sherman, D-Port Wing, a co-sponsor of the 2004 concealed carry bill, has not changed his mind on the issue. He still supports concealed carry but voted to sustain the governor's veto because he did not like the way majority Republican leaders cast the bill as a partisan test.

It would have been the first override of a governor's veto in 18 years.

The state Senate overrode the veto but the Assembly vote was one short of the required two-thirds majority. SB214 would have allowed sheriffs to issue permits for people to carry concealed weapons. Adult applicants would have had to pass firearms training and a background check, have no felony convictions and not be incompetent, mentally ill or addicted to drugs or alcohol.

There is no prohibition in Wisconsin for wearing a holstered sidearm so long as it is in full view, and nearly anyone can carry a rifle or shotgun.

A police union that represents officers in Milwaukee favors the Law Enforcement Safety Act signed by President George W. Bush in July that permits retired peace officers, game wardens and others to be certified to carry concealed weapons.

They say the federal law supersedes state laws prohibiting carrying concealed weapons like those in Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska and Kansas -- the only states without concealed carry.

Ohio issued 38,476 licenses after April 8 during the first six months its concealed carry law was in effect.

Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager sent a letter to lawmakers and the governor in November pointing out issues in the federal law she says require changes in existing state law. They involve proper identification, lack of uniform training for police agencies, costs and fees and liability for agencies that issue permits.

"I have concluded that state legislative action is needed before the act can be effectively implemented here," she wrote.

No police departments in Wisconsin have implemented the federal law on their own, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said.

"What you have is the AG's office throwing the ball into the Legislature's court and saying, 'You deal with the federal law,'" Bradley DeBraska, president of the Milwaukee Police Association, told the newspaper.

A lobbyist for the Wisconsin Police Association agreed that state law needed to clear up questions created by the federal law before retired officers can be permitted to carry concealed weapons.

Under the federal law, an officer retiring in "good standing" with at least 15 years of service and who meets agency or state firearms training requirements annually would not be barred from carrying a hidden gun.

The federal law does not require background checks or disclosure of medical records. There is no age limit on a retiree's right to carry and no uniform identification card or database to check who is permitted to carry a concealed gun.

Active police officers already can carry concealed weapons if their agency or department permits it.

Wisconsin's Legislature will be asked to set a firearms training standard for active and retired officers and to set fees before the federal law is implemented.

A Badger Poll conducted before the veto found 69 percent of state residents opposed concealed carry while 27 percent favored it.

Minnesota, Wisconsin's western neighbor, has had concealed carry on the books for more than 18 months.

The issue was contentious before Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed it in 2003 with heated arguments over whether concealed weapons should be permitted in places of worship or at University of Minnesota football games.

A report on "Firearms and Violence" by the National Academy of Sciences this month found "no credible evidence" that permitting the carrying of concealed weapons reduces crime.

The study examined gun-violence prevention measures including concealed carry laws. It also found no evidence that concealed carry leads to any increase in crime and called for more accurate data on the manufacture and distribution of firearms, gun ownership and types of weapons owned.

"One would hope this report from the National Academy of Sciences would signal the end of the relentless agenda by the gun lobby to permit carrying concealed weapons in Wisconsin," Jeri Bonavia, executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, said in a statement. "Many of the most esteemed researchers and professors in this country could find no positive benefit in passing carrying concealed weapons legislation."

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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