My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is:
The Wisconsin Legislature is back in session for a short time before they go home for the year to run for re-election. This November, a third of the Senate and every seat in the Assembly is on the ballot. Normally this session is a quiet one in which only mundane and procedural initiatives are addressed as legislators seek to avoid controversy before asking the citizens for their votes.
Some legislators, however, are willing to risk controversy in order to advance bills to better Wisconsin. Senate President Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, and Rep. Robert Brooks, R-Saukville, introduced a bill last week to allow more latitude for people licensed to carry a concealed weapon in Wisconsin to carry their weapons on K-12 school grounds.
Under current law, people who are licensed are permitted to carry their weapons in most places in Wisconsin, including college campuses, restaurants, stores, taverns and any private property unless the owners prohibit it. But they are not allowed to carry their weapons on K-12 campuses at all — even locked and unloaded in their vehicles. It is a crime to do so.
Lazich’s and Brooks’ bill would allow licensed people to carry their concealed weapons on campus grounds and leave it up to local school boards to decide if they would allow people to carry their weapons in school buildings.
The immediate problem the bill seeks to solve is that roughly 5 percent of Wisconsinites are licensed to carry concealed weapons and they become instant felons if they drop off their kids at school with a gun with them. There is no rational reason why parents who carry a weapon, who pose no danger to anyone who is not trying to harm them, should have to surrender their constitutional rights or run afoul of the law just to drive through a parking lot while transporting their kids.
But the bill also addresses the larger problem of blanket prohibition of firearms in schools. By allowing local school boards the latitude to define the parameters by which people will be allowed or prohibited to carry weapons in schools, those school boards would have more tools available to them for addressing school safety while being responsive to their constituents’ wishes.
For example, a school district could allow only former military or law enforcement personnel to carry their weapons. Or perhaps allow it for everyone, but only after registering with the office. Or maybe only allow district employees to carry weapons. Or the school district could maintain an absolute ban on weapons. Whatever the case, the proposed law would put that decision into the hands of locally elected leaders.
As expected, the anti-liberty crowd has gone into full fever pitch at the mere suggestion of allowing guns in schools. Mayor Tom Barrett, who presides over the city ranked as the seventh most dangerous in America in 2015 (up from 10th place in 2014), went as far as to call the measure “insane,” as if his prescriptions to mitigate violent crime have been successful.
We have heard these lamentations before. We heard them before concealed carry was passed into law in 2011. We heard them before Texas allowed open carry this year. We have heard them every time people seek to exercise and protect their Second Amendment rights. And those lamentations and predictions of doom have universally failed to come true. In fact, even now, 18 states already allow guns in schools with no or minor conditions and there have not been any negative consequences in those schools.
All constitutional rights are subject to some restrictions. The standard should be whether or not the government has a vital interest in restricting a right. In this case, there is no data to support the contention that allowing licensed concealed-carry holders to carry their weapons on campus decreases safety. In contrast, there is some reason to believe that allowing campus carry would enhance safety by allowing a good guy with a gun to mitigate the damage caused by a bad guy with a gun.
Unfortunately, the Republican leadership in the legislature has already signaled that this bill is not likely to see a vote in this session. They are not willing to risk controversy — even if the facts and tenets of liberty are on their side. If that proves to be the case, let us hope this is one of the first bills brought up when they are ready to get back to serious lifting of the people’s business.