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Walker approves concealed carry rules (UPDATE)

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Friday reluctantly approved temporary rules that would allow Wisconsin’s new concealed carry law to take effect next month, bucking complaints from the National Rifle Association that the regulations are too strict.

The state Justice Department has been scrambling to craft administrative rules enacting the law before the measure goes into effect. The agency handed an emergency package over to Walker for his approval last week. The Legislature’s rules committee could still intervene.

The rules have created an unusual schism between some Wisconsin Republicans and the NRA, a powerful lobbying force and a staunch GOP ally. The gun group has argued that Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen overstepped his authority by inserting mandates in the rules that people take at least four hours of training and get instructors’ signatures on completion certificates — requirements that weren’t included in the legislation.

Sensitive to the NRA’s might, Walker issued a statement saying he had to approve the rules so that concealed carry can begin on Nov. 1. But he told DOJ he wants to see changes in the permanent regulations.

“We’re hopeful that the Department of Justice improves the permanent rules substantially,” Walker said. He did not elaborate.

DOJ officials said they developed the rules on an emergency basis because the process for a permanent package requires a public hearing and other steps that would have delayed the law’s implementation beyond Nov. 1. Under the emergency approach, the rules could remain in effect for up to five months, although the Legislature’s rules committee could shorten or lengthen that time frame.

The governor can’t officially demand changes in agency rules, but the rules committee can.

Republicans control the committee, but it’s unclear whether they’ll seek changes in light of the NRA’s complaints and Walker’s displeasure and, if so, if they would wait until after the law takes effect before making a move. Any delay that pushes rule approval past Nov. 1 likely would alienate gun supporters, who have been waiting years to be able to legally carry concealed firearms.
The committee’s co-chairs didn’t immediately return messages Friday.

Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who leads the Justice Department, has maintained the agency acted within its authority. He contends the law doesn’t clearly say what training courses should cover and doesn’t permit DOJ to establish curriculums. But the agency still must somehow determine licensees received training, so it went with an hour requirement and instructor signatures.

DOJ spokeswoman Dana Brueck said agency officials were comfortable with the rules and would let the process play out.

NRA spokeswoman Rachel Parsons didn’t respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Republican lawmakers passed the concealed carry law in July after years of NRA lobbying, making Wisconsin the 49th state to allow hidden weapons.

Under the law, anyone who wants to carry a concealed weapon must obtain a permit from DOJ.

Applicants must receive training through courses conducted by national or state organizations that certify firearm instructors, courses offered by police departments, technical colleges and universities and courses for police officers and private detectives. They also must provide written proof they’ve completed such a course.

The law doesn’t lay out any minimum hour restrictions or specifically state proof-of-completion must include an instructor’s signature, although it does mandate that the proof come from an instructor or the organization that conducted the training.

“Make no mistake,” Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s legislative arm, wrote in a letter to Van Hollen last week, “the final law was meant to enact a broad and accessible right to carry for responsible, peaceable persons within the state, with a presumption of freedom, rather than of extensive regulation.”

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