By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — People looking to carry concealed guns in Wisconsin would need a license and proof they can handle a firearm under revisions made Thursday to a bill to lift the state’s ban on hidden weapons.
The changes the Legislature’s budget committee approved would require applicants to pay the state Department of Justice as much as $37 plus another $13 for a background check to obtain a permit. They also would have to provide proof of firearms training, such as completing a safety course or participating in a shooting contest. None of the Democrats on the committee supported the bill.
Republicans have been pushing to make Wisconsin the 49th state to permit concealed weapons since gaining complete control of the Legislature and the governor’s office in the November elections. But they’ve been struggling to reach a consensus on what caveats to include, if any. An Assembly bill required permits and no training. A competing Senate bill went even further by imposing no prerequisites, a nod to gun advocates who believe the U.S. Constitution grants them the right to bear arms without restrictions.
Gov. Scott Walker resolved the dispute last week when he said any concealed carry bill should require permits and training. The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee added those provisions to the Senate bill on a 15-1 vote and passed the measure as amended 12-4, clearing the way for a full vote in either the Assembly or Senate.
Under the revamped bill, licenses would be valid for five years and the Justice Department would keep a database of permit holders. Police would be able to access the database only to verify that a license is valid, to check whether someone claiming to hold a license indeed has one or if a person lied to obtain a license.
Not allowing police automatic access to the list was a sticking point for gun advocates.
To satisfy the training requirement, applicants would have to show that they took a safety course from a certified firearms instructor, completed a state hunter safety course or participated in an organized shooting. An honorable military discharge also would qualify.
People would generally be allowed to carry concealed anywhere except in police stations, prisons, jails, state mental hospitals, courthouses or buildings with signs banning concealed weapons. Business owners also could post signs banning weapons.
The measure also would dramatically reduce the penalty for carrying a firearm within 1,000 feet of school grounds. Currently, anyone who isn’t in law enforcement caught with a gun within that parameter can be charged with a felony punishable by up to 3 ½ years in prison and $10,000 in fines. The bill would change that to a $1,000 forfeiture. Concealed-carry permit holders would face no penalty.
The proposal could cost millions of dollars to implement. The Justice Department estimates it would have to create 13 positions to process license applications at a cost of $1.4 million over the next two fiscal years. The agency estimates it would need another $1.5 million to develop the database over those two years.
Three of the four Democrats on the budget committee voted to support the revisions, saying they improved the bill. But all four voted against the overall bill. They complained that the legislation was confusing, ill-conceived and too expensive. Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, argued that it would turn Wisconsin into a “vigilante state.”
“This is a piece of work that isn’t ready for primetime,” she said. “It is completely full of holes that make it completely unclear for legislators, for law enforcement and certainly for the average citizen.”
Republicans argued that the Justice Department expects to collect about $5 million in new revenue through permit applications. They also said the bill would save lives.
Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, recounted a story about a man who years ago threatened to shoot his wife, former television reporter Rebecca Kleefisch, now the lieutenant governor. He said he was worried about her safety every day. He wasn’t sure if the lieutenant governor would choose to carry a concealed weapon today, but at least the bill would give her the option.
“That gun,” Kleefisch said, “would be the great equalizer.”