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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

When Scott Walker Stood Up To The NRA

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As the debate over guns heats up, it's worth noting how Governor Scott Walker last year broke with the NRA on one of it's major initiatives here.

For years, conservatives had pushed for the repeal of Wisconsin's antiquated and restrictive ban on concealed carry, but as the legislation began to move forward in the Wisconsin legislature, it took a bizarre turn. Under the rubric of 'constitutional carry," the state senate appeared ready to embrace an NRA-backed bill that allowed concealed carry without getting training or a permit.

As someone who had supported concealed carry for years, this struck some of us as close to bait and switch. And I said so at the time:

Rights are not absolute: you can't shout 'fire" in a crowded theater, for instance. And rights -- especially ones involving the carrying of a deadly weapon in public -- need to be balanced with responsibilities and public safety. In this case: it is simply a matter of common sense that we try to make sure that someone carrying a loaded weapon knows how to use it....

Interestingly, Republicans in the legislature have passed CC bills three times (only to have them vetoed by Jim Doyle); and each one included these provisions. Until now they have never been controversial and have been among the major selling points of the bill: only law abiding citizens who have passed a background check and received gun safety training wold be able to legally carry. But now the proposal has changed... and not for the better.

My colleague, Jeff Wagner, a former federal prosecutor, agreed:

Many of us have been waiting a long time for some form of concealed carry to come to Wisconsin. A rational bill in line with the laws in most other States will undoubtedly have the support of a majority of citizens and the law enforcement community. A proposal that imposes no restrictions pretty much guarantees the end of concealed carry if and when Democrats come back into power - and paves the way for that precise thing.

For the NRA and its allies, this was heresy and the NRA launched a pretty impressive campaigned aimed at both Jeff and at me. A website called "ammoland" labeled the two of us "supposed" conservatives and pushed a letter and email campaign directed at us and our bosses because of our support of training and permits.

An NRA lobbyist went even further:

"They (conservative talk show hosts in Milwaukee) are doing exactly what the radical liberals are doing. Acting on a total lack of education, total emotion."... "They should be ashamed of themselves." ... "Those Two (I presume
Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner) hosts out in the Milwaukee area, conservative people, probably did more harm to constitutional carry and the fight there than any other people out there, the anti-gunners or anyone else" - Darren La Sorte, NRA lobbyist    

So I think it's safe the lines were drawn.

On June 3, 2011, Walker made his decision:

Gov. Scott Walker, who had been silent on the specifics of a bill he would support, issued a statement that formalized his position: "If a concealed carry bill reaches my desk, it should include a permit and training provisions."

The final version of the bill included both provisions.

While the NRA accepted Walker's decision somewhat meekly, some of its allies were more critical:

"I'm definitely disappointed that the governor doesn't take a principled and practical position on this," said Nik Clark, chairman and president of Wisconsin Carry Inc.

"I'm disappointed the governor doesn't look at other states that don't require training or permits and see that they don't have any problems and recognize that there's no reason to have required permits and training here," he said.

But the bottom-line was that Walker defied the NRA's hard line... and  politically survived and prospered.


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