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THE DARK SIDE: Concealed carry finally comes to Wisconsin

Tuesday marks a great leap forward for human rights in Wisconsin: people can finally carry a concealed handgun without fear of criminal prosecution.

Unfortunately, in order to exercise that basic right, people have to take a course and pay a fee to get a license. Not everyone will do so, though. Some people will continue to carry a gun without going through the hassle.

I’m curious how the state’s police, prosecutors and courts will react when that happens.

Prosecutions for carrying a concealed weapon always perplexed me. They fall into two categories. In one class of cases, the gun was recovered in connection with some criminal activity. The CCW charge, being a misdemeanor only, was the least of the defendant’s problems.

In the other class of cases, the defendant was a law-abiding citizen, exercising his basic right to protect his safety and life, who wound up getting frisked as part of police investigation into a crime he did not commit.

In such cases, you file a motion to suppress, arguing the pat-down was not supported by reasonable suspicion, and when the motion is denied, you plead guilty and proceed to sentencing.

It never makes any sense to put the defendant on probation; the defendants have no need for rehabilitation that probation could supply. The standard conditions of probation, such as drug and alcohol treatment, anger management, vocational training or education, simply are not appropriate.

Of course, some judges are trigger-happy when it comes to conditions of probation. In one case, a judge ordered my client to take parenting classes if he fathered any children during the term of his probation, only to then strike that and order parenting classes whether he had any children or not.

Thankfully, the state conceded error on appeal and the Court of Appeals summarily reversed.

But in most cases, the court would simply impose jail time. Not surprisingly, the practical effect is to reinforce the defendant’s belief that carrying a concealed weapon is a necessary evil.

One judge used to consistently remark that he imposes jail in all CCW cases and would do so even if the defendant was Mother Teresa, or somebody like that.

So, I wonder what will be the effect of the new law. On the one hand, police, prosecutors and judges could be stricter about CCW, reasoning that a defendant could easily have obtained a license to carry, but did not.

On the other hand, they could be more lenient, recognizing that the citizenry has overwhelmingly expressed its view that carrying a concealed handgun is a right, not a crime. They may figure that just as jail is not appropriate for driving a car without a driver’s license, jail also is not appropriate for carrying a concealed gun without a license.

Many police officers already take the view that CCW is not a crime. In some Milwaukee neighborhoods, if you are taking a walk at night and encounter a police officer, he will ask point blank if you’re carrying. If you are, he says, “Good.” If you’re not carrying, he tells you that you should.

With the new law, this view will probably become even more prevalent. But I wonder what our state’s judges will do, when less enlightened officers arrest non-licensees for CCW. Will they impose sentences that consist only of a fine? Or will some persist in the archaic view that even Mother Theresa deserves jail if she exercises her right to protect herself without a license?

David Ziemer is a former news editor for the Wisconsin Law Journal.

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5 comments

  1. I too, hope for the best. While I do believe that CCW will make the job of police officers a bit more difficult, this is irrelevant – your job is your job. If we really wanted to make the job of the police, the courts, and the government easy, we would impose curfews, restrict movements and property ownership, and do away with the Constitution. These are the steps taken by dictatorships, and police states as long as there has been human society. Such places are not pleasant, even for police officers. What is great about the new CCW is that it makes firearms respectable, and encourages personal responsibility.

    I recall several years ago, the police came to my hose, due to my car being stolen. I had a gun cabinet, and some firearms related paraphernalia around the house. After taking my statement about the car, the officers hung around a few minutes, and we talked about guns. We talked about the Glocks that they carried, and about a couple of my pistols, and one of the older (WWII era) rifles I had in my cabinet. If this had been New York, Washington DC, or parts of California, the gun cabinet and other signs of gun ownership would have immediately turned us against each other, due to the laws and the related ingrained attitudes in those places.

    CCW may actually make the job of the police easier, by removing some of the animosity that now exists in regards to citizens taking responsibility for their own security. It would be great if, in a few months or a year, being stopped by the police while carrying would engender a friendly conversation about holster types, calibers, and the virtues of certain makes and models of pistol. The police and the citizen are all in this together, after all, and anything that brings us closer and removes boundaries can only be a good thing.

  2. Why does this issue, which is irrelevant to 99% of the population, receive so much attention while issues that actually matter, such as all the drastic and far-reaching recent changes to the law in Wisconsin?

    Concealed carry is really an issue designed to distract people from the real issues that affect their lives. Issues such as a lack of national health care.

  3. nick, that’s pretty dismissive of the elderly, disabled, anyone who makes the bank deposits for their employer, etc., who considers a weapon to be necessary to his or her safety. hardly 1% of the population. on the contrary, i’d say its only people like me, in the top 1% of the population in terms of health and physical strength, for whom this irrelevant.

  4. It is dismissive because this issue does not deserve constant, daily attention when other more pressing matters are at issue. Things like jobs, homes and health care. Wisconsin got along just fine without concealed carry and it will do just fine with it. I support the concept and the Second Amendment. I do not support so much attention being given to a issue that was never an issue in Wisconsin before. I really wonder how many people will now start carrying concealed weapons. Perhaps they were already doing it before, perhaps not, but overall I see this as an issue designed to keep the real issues of import out of the news.

  5. but it has been an issue for a long time. the legislature has repeatedly enacted concealed carry laws, only to have them vetoed, until now anyway.

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