Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly on Thursday approved a slate of bills expanding gun rights, primarily under the umbrella of the state law allowing for the licensed carrying of concealed weapons.
Democrats denounced them as a dangerous pander to the gun lobby while Republicans pitched them as common sense Second Amendment policies.
The bills were all approved on voice votes, which means there is no voting record, by name, of who supported or opposed them. They now await votes in the Senate and, if approved, will head to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' desk.
Assembly Bill 495 would allow a person who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon to possess a firearm, in a vehicle, on school grounds. Under current law, possession of firearms on school grounds is generally prohibited.
Proponents say the bill would allow parents with concealed carry permits to pick up their children from school without going through the hassle of unloading, removing and locking up their guns.
The bill is supported by the National Rifle Association; the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association; Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Inc.; and Wisconsin Gun Owners, Inc.
Opposing the bill are the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators, the cities of Madison and Milwaukee, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, the Southeastern Wisconsin Schools Alliance, the WAVE Educational Fund, the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, the Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials, the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, the Wisconsin Association of School Nurses, the Wisconsin Association of School Personnel Administrators, the Wisconsin Council for Administrators of Special Services, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, and the Wisconsin Retired Educators Association.
"I support the Second Amendment right to own guns for hunting, sport and for personal protection," said Rep. Deb Andraca, D-Whitefish Bay. "But I can also tell you from personal experience, guns do not belong in or anywhere near schools."
Andraca said she's a gun owner with a concealed carry permit, but as a mom and a teacher, the bills approved on Thursday make "absolutely no sense."
Assembly Bill 498 would lower the age requirement to obtain a concealed carry permit from 21 years old to 18 years old.
"If you’re old enough to fight for your country, if you’re old enough to sign contracts, if you’re old enough to decide who the president of the United States is, we think you’re old enough to be responsible with your rights and be able to protect yourself and your family," said bill author Rep. Shae Sortwell, R-Two Rivers, during a news conference.
During floor debate on the bill, Sortwell argued opposing it amounts to "ageism."
"What I don't see (in the state constitution) is where it says we should be denying our basic rights to other adults because they're not 21 yet," Sortwell said. "I don’t understand why we believe that treating people differently under the law is somehow acceptable."
The bill is supported by the National Rifle Association; Safari Club; Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Inc.; and Wisconsin Gun Owners, Inc.
It is opposed by the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, the cities of Milwaukee and Madison, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin and the WAVE Educational Fund.
Asked about the bill during a news conference on Thursday, Evers told reporters the proposal sounded "pretty bizarre."
Assembly Bill 518 would allow a resident of another state to carry a concealed weapon in Wisconsin as long they are licensed in another state. Current law only allows such reciprocity to be granted if the other state performs background checks before granting a concealed weapons permit. AB 518 would allow reciprocity regardless of whether a background check was required.
The bill is supported by the National Rifle Association; Safari Club; the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association; Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Inc.; and Wisconsin Gun Owners, Inc.
It is opposed by the cities of Madison and Milwaukee and the WAVE Education Fund.
Under current law, people are generally banned from possessing a firearm on school grounds. Assembly Bill 597 would allow a person with a concealed carry permit to possess a gun in a place of worship located on the grounds of a private school, as long as the place of worship allows it.
The bill is backed by the National Rifle Association; the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association; Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Inc.; and Wisconsin Gun Owners, Inc.
It is opposed by End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, the Wisconsin chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the WAVE Educational Fund, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference and the Wisconsin Council of Churches.
Assembly Bill 843 would require the state superintendent of public instruction to develop a "comprehensive firearm education course" for high school students. The curriculum would be developed by the state superintendent along with the state Department of Natural Resources, a law enforcement agency and an organization that specializes in firearm safety or certifies firearm instructors.
Under the bill, school districts opting not to offer a firearm or hunter safety course must have a school board-approved resolution backing that decision.
The bill is supported by Wisconsin Gun Owners, Inc.
It is opposed by the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators, the Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials, the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, the Wisconsin Association of School Personnel Administrators and the Wisconsin Council for Administrators of Special Services.
The Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance is registered against the bill, opposing it as an "unfunded mandate." The group also argues existing hunter safety programs fill the need.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards is also registered in opposition: "While WASB has previously been neutral on similar bills, it objects to the anti-local control provision that if a school board elects not to offer a firearm education or hunter safety course, it must adopt a resolution making that election."