Fire, ready, aim!
Recently I've heard from a couple dozen people who are unhappy with my position on the concealed carrying of firearms. That's nothing compared to the thousands of people I heard from during the debate over the budget repair bill. Still, with a handful of hard-core gun guys calling me "a liberal" (of all things), I thought I'd take this opportunity to inject some common sense and political reality into the debate.
For almost twenty years now, I've advocated for a reasonable expansion of firearm rights in Wisconsin. I've argued against gun bans when some municipalities tried to enact them. I've argued against prosecutions of individuals who used firearms in the exercise of self-defense. Most importantly, I've argued continually for legislation which would allow Wisconsin to join 48 other States in allowing some form of the concealed carrying of firearms.
Now that it appears Wisconsin finally has a Legislature and Governor who are sympathetic to the rights of firearms owners, it's depressing to see that a fringe element of the pro-gun movement is prepared to seize defeat from the jaws of legislative victory.
When I think about concealed carry laws, I think about the laws that exist in most States.
Concealed carry laws vary somewhat from State to State but basically work like this: An individual applies for a permit so that the cops can make certain that the person is legally able to possess a firearm. Assuming no problems with the background check, the citizen then takes some form of training course that may or may not contain a proficiency component (to make sure they know how to use the gun). The end result is a permit that allows a law-abiding and qualified citizen to carry concealed firearm for a set period of time (usually several years).
Most people don't own firearms - and most firearms owners don't choose to carry a concealed weapon. Still, with these checks in place, I believe most fair-minded people see no problem with concealed carry.
Unfortunately, a small - but vocal - segment of the gun lobby is trying to get the Legislature to go beyond traditional concealed carry legislation. The so called "constitutional carry" movement claims that the government has no business regulating the possession of handguns and that people should be allowed to carry concealed weapons without any permits, any training or any government oversight. Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont and Arizona are the only States that allow possession of concealed weapons without permits.
First, "constitutional carry" is a misnomer. The 2nd Amendment is not absolute. That's why felons and the mentally ill can't legally own firearms. It's also why, as a general rule, private citizens can't own machine guns or bazookas or silencers. There simply is no "constitutional right" to carry a concealed firearm under any and all circumstances.
Second, it strikes me as being absurd to legally allow someone to carry a concealed weapon without some basic assurance that they know how to use it. After all, you wouldn't take someone who has never driven a car and send them out on the Interstate at rush hour! Why would let someone legally stick a Saturday Night Special in their pocket without some basic assurance that they know one end from the other?
A lot of the same folks who are pushing "Constitutional carry" are also pushing the "open carry" concept. These are the people who, seizing on some language in a recent State Supreme Court opinion, have taken to wearing sidearms in public as an expression of their "rights".
It seems to me that if you have to wear a pistol while you're cutting your lawn, you need to move to a better neighborhood. If you need to carry a gun into a coffee shop to get the attention of the waitress, you should tip better.
And if "open carry" adherents think pulling stunts like this helps win the general public to their cause, they're dead wrong.
Walking around the streets with a gun on your hip is to the pro-gun movement what those folks who hang out on street corners and waive photos of aborted fetuses at passing cars are to the pro-life movement.
Unfortunately, the more mainstream elements of the pro-gun lobby have done little to rein in those pushing these more extreme ideas. This isn't surprising because most special interest groups get a ton of support from their more zealous and ideologically pure members. Still, if we want to get meaningful firearms legislation passed anytime soon, it's time for the grown-ups to come to the table.
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.
After all, when you fire before you've aimed, you often end up shooting yourself in the foot!