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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Beware of Responsible Citizens

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“People who carry concealed (weapons) as private citizens are responsible people.”

That sweeping statement by an elected public official, Republican state Sen. Pam Galloway of Wausau, is so monumentally ignorant it should drop the jaw of every single citizen in the state of Wisconsin.

After all, “private citizens carrying concealed weapons” defines every murderous thug who has ever committed an armed robbery or shot and killed another human being on our streets.

That such an ignorant statement could come from an actual elected official who has been given authority to create laws by a vote of other citizens in her community should give everyone pause, regardless of political party.

The concept of ignorance now must be redefined. Galloway is not some uneducated woman living among violent rabble in a backwoods hollow somewhere who fails to grasp the rules of decent society. She is a college-educated medical doctor and surgeon who, in the Republican rout of 2010, defeated Democratic Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, who had represented the district for a decade.

Galloway comes from the right as a past chairwoman of the Marathon County Republican Party and a member of Wisconsin Right to Life and the National Rifle Association.

But political views, whether from the right or the left, don't have to be blatantly ignorant.

We all need to ask ourselves why the important debate over the availability of deadly weapons in this country is now dominated by extremist rhetoric that is demonstrably absurd.

With Republicans controlling the governor's office and both houses of the Legislature for now, few people doubt the NRA's pet cause, concealed carry of deadly weapons, will pass in Wisconsin.

Only vetoes by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle spared the state from concealed carry laws Republicans passed when they controlled the Legislature in 2003 and 2005.

That makes it even more important that any law increasing the number of guns on our streets include some common-sense protections for public safety.

Instead, one proposed concealed carry bill Galloway co-authored with Republican state Rep. Jeff Mursau of Crivitz allows anyone who hasn't committed a violent crime to carry a concealed gun without a permit or even any background check.

No age requirements. No law enforcement oversight. No way of knowing whether the people with deadly weapons on our streets might be crazy as outhouse rats.

Why bother with any paperwork? Just let the bullets fly.

Surprising Lack of Concern

Without any concerned adults overseeing state legislation while Republicans are in control, Wisconsin would be transformed from one of the few states in the country where concealed carry is banned into one of the few states in the country with no sensible controls at all on anyone carrying lethal weapons.

Such a complete lack of concern for public safety is surprising in a state where the popular sport of hunting emphasizes respect for the deadly power of the gun.

Basic hunter education classes include at least 10 hours of lessons emphasizing gun safety and accident prevention. Police officers and other law enforcement professionals train and practice throughout their careers to maintain their skills in using their guns without unnecessarily endangering public safety.

But all the amateurs who would be packing heat in public places under concealed carry can't be inconvenienced by onerous requirements they actually learn common-sense precautions to prevent them from accidentally slaughtering innocent human beings.

Oh, wait. Some people would be protected from all those responsible citizens carrying deadly weapons. Those fortunate few are the people who pass and enforce our laws.

Even under concealed carry, guns still would be banned from the Capitol where Galloway works as well as from police stations, jails and prisons, courthouses, airports, schools and other government buildings.

While Galloway and her fellow legislators are protected, the rest of us had better keep our heads down. We never know when we might get taken out by some untrained responsible citizen.

All of us can think of places where lethal weapons never should be permitted—day care centers, churches, shelters where battered women flee violent and abusive relationships. Galloway couldn't care less.

How did the debate over guns reach the point where pro-gun politicians such as Galloway consider people who are concerned about gun safety their enemies and every gunslinger a responsible citizen?

Some kind of cartoon version of the world has replaced intelligent discussion of guns in this state.

Anyone who would like some common-sense controls and safety education in place for amateurs who are going to be armed and dangerous in public is anti-gun.

Anyone who wants to carry a deadly weapon is a responsible citizen.

Neither of those descriptions covers the vast majority of hunters who embrace gun safety to protect themselves and their friends in the woods or the vast majority of citizens who have always carried and used guns on our streets.

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