MADISON – Republican lawmakers are introducing new legislation that would decrease restrictions on firearms in Wisconsin by lowering the age to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon to 18 and allowing permit holders to have guns in vehicles on school grounds.
Both bills being circulated by Republican lawmakers for sponsorship in the state Legislature in recent weeks have been proposed before and likely will face hurdles under Gov. Tony Evers, who has said he supports the law as it’s currently written.
Rep. Shae Sortwell, R-Two Rivers, said in an interview the bill to lower the age to obtain a concealed carry permit from 21 to 18 follows a recent federal appeals court ruling that said prohibitions on selling handguns to Americans under 21 violates the Second Amendment.
“The (ruling) made it pretty clear you can’t make arbitrary laws that say one adult does not have the same rights as other adults,” Sortwell said.
A divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, said July 13 that a 1968 law that banned the sale of handguns to people under 21 years old but permitted the sale of shotguns and rifles to those same people was an arbitrary restriction that put 18- to 20-year-olds in second-class status under the Second Amendment. The decision is likely to be appealed and may reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
“When do constitutional rights vest? At 18 or 21? 16 or 25? Why not 13 or 33?” wrote Judge Julius Richardson, nominated to the court by former President Donald Trump. “In the law, a line must sometimes be drawn. But there must be a reason why constitutional rights cannot be enjoyed until a certain age.”
Richardson’s opinion drew a critical dissent from Judge James Wynn, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama.
“The majority’s decision to grant the gun lobby a victory in a fight it lost on Capitol Hill more than fifty years ago is not compelled by law,” Wynn wrote. “Nor is it consistent with the proper role of the federal judiciary in our democratic system.”
Sortwell sees Wisconsin’s concealed-carry law that was implemented in 2011 and requires permit-holders to be 21 as having similar problems.
“Individuals who are old enough to legally own and possess a handgun are also old enough to obtain a concealed-carry permit, and it is our obligation as the state legislature to ensure equality before the law,” Sortwell wrote in a memo to colleagues seeking support for the legislation.
“If this is about self defense, why should my 18-, 19-, 20-year-old daughter be more at risk to criminals than my 21-year-old daughter?” he said in an interview last week.
Attorney General Josh Kaul, through a spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to whether he agreed with Sortwell’s interpretation of the ruling.
A spokeswoman for Evers also did not immediately respond to whether the governor would sign the proposed legislation. While running for governor in 2017, Evers said he would act as a “goalie” for similar proposals being introduced at the time.
“Kids in Wisconsin don’t need more guns near or around schools,” said Evers, who was state superintendent at the time, about a similar bill that was ultimately unsuccessful.
At that time, Republican lawmakers were debating legislation that would allow Wisconsin residents to carry concealed firearms without getting training or state permits, and would have ended the state’s ban on tasers and allow some people to bring guns onto school grounds.
“We will be introducing legislation to ensure that parents who hold a concealed carry permit don’t accidentally violate the law when picking up or dropping off their child in their school parking lot,” Rep. Rob Brooks, R-Saukville, and Sen. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, said earlier this month in a memo to colleagues seeking support for the legislation.
The bill would require the vehicle be locked and the firearm be out of sight.
During the 2017 debate on the more expansive bill, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards at the time had adopted a resolution that stated the group opposed any legislation that would expand the ability to carry firearms on school grounds beyond sworn law enforcement officers.
“Historically, the majority of school board members have expressed a belief that guns and children are not a good mix,” Dan Rossmiller, a lobbyist for WASB, said Monday. “While we are aware of concerns from parents who hold concealed carry permits who may violate the law when picking up or dropping off their child, our members have not responded to the introduction of previous, similar legislative proposals by changing the existing WASB resolution. For that reason, I expect our position, as it has been in the past, would be to oppose this new legislation.”
Critics of the state’s concealed carry law and Milwaukee Police officials also have expressed concerns about criminals obtaining permits or those without criminal records carrying firearms for criminals.
In 2015, former Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn pointed to a permit holder who had a habit of turning up at shooting and homicide scenes serving as a human holster which resulted in charges against him.
Jim Palmer, executive director for the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said Monday his members have yet to evaluate the new proposals.
“When it comes to gun control issues, our organization has generally been split on those, largely due to distinctions between officers that serve rural areas and those that serve in more urban areas,” he said, speaking generally. “In our experience, urban officers tend to be more concerned about gun violence than their rural counterparts, who don’t experience the same degree of gun crimes.”
John Fritze of USA Today contributed to this report.