Employers will face legal decisions with conceal and carry

Currently, 48 states allow residents to carry concealed weapons; Wisconsin is on the verge of becoming the 49th. Similar legislation had passed the Legislature twice before but both times was vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle.
Now, the state Senate and Assembly are again considering competing bills on the issue, but this time, Gov. Scott Walker has pledged his support for some version of the legislation. The biggest difference between the two bills being debated involves the issue of licenses. The Assembly bill requires residents to be licensed and pass a background check in order to carry a concealed weapon, but the Senate bill has no licensing requirement.

How would the bills change the law on concealed weapons?  
With certain exceptions, Wisconsin law currently prohibits carrying concealed weapons in public.Under both the Senate and Assembly bills, residents 21 years and older could carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the state, with only a few limited exceptions. Concealed weapons would be banned in schools, police stations, sheriff’s offices,  prisons or jails, courthouses, government offices that have electronic screening devices and airports (but only beyond security checkpoints). 

To license or not to license
Under the Assembly bill (AB 126), the State would issue licenses to carry concealed weapons, subject to a background check. Anyone who applies must be issued a license if they are 21 years or older and can only be denied a license if they are prohibited by state law (typically if they are a convicted felon), federal law or if they are not a resident of the State. No training is required under the Assembly bill in order to carry a concealed weapon. 
In contrast, the Senate bill (SB 93) has no licensing requirement. If this bill becomes law, the only persons who could be denied the right to carry a concealed weapon would be felons and those found mentally incompetent. If the final law ends up without a licensing requirement, Wisconsin would be one of only four states (joining Arizona, Alaska and Vermont) not to require licenses or permits to carry a concealed weapon. Several state senators, including Sen. Alberta Darling and Sen. Luther Olsen, have expressed reservations in supporting legislation that does not contain licensing or training requirements. Those senators are facing recall elections to be held later this summer.  Also, Governor Walker most recently has said that any bill that reaches his desk should include permitting and training requirements. 

Impact on businesses and employers
Under both versions of the bill, employers can prohibit their employees from carrying a concealed weapon while at work, both at the employer’s place of business and if the employee works off-site. Both bills give an unusual incentive to employers that permit their employees to carry concealed weapons at work. An employer that does not prohibit its employees from carrying a concealed weapon is given immunity from lawsuits for any liability arising from that policy decision.
It is also important to note that under both bills, employers cannot prohibit employees from carrying or storing a weapon in their own motor vehicle, even if the vehicle is used by the employee during work or parked in the employer’s parking lot. 
Also, businesses can ask persons carrying weapons to leave the premises. However, businesses may not prohibit persons from having a weapon in their vehicle even if it is parked in the business’ parking lot. 
If the legislation passes in either form, employers will have to decide whether to keep or modify workplace violence policies that prohibit bringing weapons into the workplace, especially in light of the offer of civil immunity for those employers that do not prohibit concealed weapons. Additionally, employers will have to modify those policies to permit employees to store their weapons in their own motor vehicles. 
Other steps employers will want to consider include ensuring thorough pre-employment background checks and putting into place or updating security measures to address the risk of violence with the presence of weapons on company property. 
It certainly appears that Wisconsin is on the verge of having a new conceal and carry law on the books, and businesses will be wise to give serious consideration to how they want to address that law in the workplace and the impact it can have on employees, safety, liability, security and more.

Attorney Michael Aldana is a partner in Quarles & Brady LLP’s Labor and Employment Group in Milwaukee.

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