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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Is the Door Open for Concealed Carry in Wisconsin?

Challenges and opportunities in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on Chicago’s handgun ban

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Gun advocates are hailing the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Chicago’s tough handgun ban, saying that state and local laws cannot ban individuals from keeping firearms in their homes, a right that is protected by the Second Amendment.

So does this decision mean that Wisconsin’s statute banning concealed weapons is going to be struck down?

That’s open to debate. The ban will most likely be challenged in state courts, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm predicted. But the outcome is uncertain because the Supreme Court did not rule on state and local restrictions on guns in public.

Even conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote in Monday’s decision that reasonable laws preventing the mentally ill and felons would not be affected by the Chicago handgun ban ruling.

That said, Wisconsin’s concealed carry ban could be vulnerable.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s most recent decision on concealed carry—in 2003, on whether a business owner has the right to keep a concealed gun in his store—upheld the ban. But it also showed that the Wisconsin justices were concerned about the “overbreadth of the concealed carry statute as a whole,” Chisholm said.

That’s what could be challenged in the courts.

Chisholm said the state Legislature needs to develop a comprehensive gun reform package that affirms Second Amendment protections but also includes regulations that protect public safety. That could include background checks on all gun sales as well as a concealed carry permitting system that makes concealed carry of a firearm without a permit a felony. That would keep firearms out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have guns—the mentally ill, minors and felons, for example.

“We need to look at it as a comprehensive public safety package that would assure people that their access and right to keep firearms isn’t going to be impinged in any way and at the same time allows public safety officials a reasonable way of preventing dangerous people from having firearms,” Chisholm said. “I still argue it can be done.”

But Jeri Bonavia, executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE), argued that the Supreme Court decision doesn’t affect the state’s concealed carry ban, which WAVE supports.

“The decision basically strikes down Chicago’s handgun ban in homes,” Bonavia said. “But it didn’t go further than that. It doesn’t eliminate or eliminate the possibility of any other types of gun violence prevention or regulations.”

She said that those concerned about gun violence shouldn’t be disheartened by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“In some ways it’s beneficial to us because it takes the extremes off the table and the sides can’t be talking about either no guns or guns everywhere all the time,” Bonavia said. “Now maybe we can actually get to work on that middle ground where the vast majority of Americans think we should be anyway, and seriously talk about what we can be doing to prevent gun violence in an effective way that respects the Second Amendment as defined by the Supreme Court.”