In my magazine column last week and my blog earlier this week, I issued a “heads up” that the Republicans in the state Legislature will soon be moving forward on several pet issues that they had tentatively put aside to allow the focus to remain on Gov. Scott Walker’s job creation efforts.
However, now that recall campaigns are going forward against nine GOP state senators, and their Senate majority may soon be threatened, the Republicans are moving ahead with those bills while they have control of both houses and the governor’s mansion.
The latest GOP pet issue is conceal and carry.
Rep. Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz) and Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wausau) introduced two bills Wednesday. Galloway’s bill would allow people to carry concealed weapons without having to undergo any safety training.
Mursau’s bill, which is far more likely to be approved, would require people to undergo some training before obtaining a permit to carry concealed guns.
In a letter to his GOP caucus colleagues seeking co-sponsors for the bill, Mursau said, “It has been statistically demonstrated that crime goes down in a correlation with an increase in the ability and actual number of citizens who can and do carry concealed weapons.”
Hearings already are planned for the bills on May 12 in Wausau and Madison.
Wisconsin and Illinois are the only states that do not allow people to carry concealed guns and other weapons. Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature approved concealed weapons bills in 2003 and 2005, but both were vetoed by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.
Under both new bills, guns and other weapons would be banned from police stations, jails, prisons, courthouses, schools, airports and other government buildings. Local governments also could prohibit guns in their buildings.
The bills drew immediate criticism from some, saying that at minimum the state should ban guns from more places, including domestic abuse shelters.
"It’s ironic that legislators would exclude guns from their workplace, the state Capitol, but not think about the safety risks inherent at locations where some of the our most vulnerable community members seek safety and help," Patti Seger, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said in a statement.
Rep. Donna Seidel (D-Wausau) said no one should be able to carry concealed weapons without training or having to qualify for permits.
"I have had concerns about enacting concealed carry in the past and the fact that the bills being circulated go beyond previous versions such as eliminating training requirements only adds to my previous objections. This is another example of the Republicans fast tracking their agenda because they are nervous about the political landscape with the results of the special election in La Crosse this week and the upcoming recall elections," Seidel said.
The bills would allow businesses to prohibit people from carrying guns in their facilities.
However, businesses that prohibit or otherwise restrict their employees or their customers from carrying concealed weapons on the premises would do so at their own risk, in terms of legal liability. In other words, employers that do not restrict weapons would be granted immunity from legal liability by the state. But employers that do restrict weapons would not be granted that immunity from legal liability by the state.
In effect, if a disgruntled employee or customer were to walk into a business and begin shooting, an employer could be held liable if the company restricted its employees from carrying weapons to defend themselves.
So, the bill, as it is written, provides a financial incentive for employers to allow weapons in the workplace.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.