GOP bills expanding gun rights approved in Wisconsin Assembly

The Wisconsin Assembly approved a package of Republican-authored bills on Thursday that would dramatically expand gun rights in the state, moving forward with the proposals even though Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will almost certainly veto them.

The proposals would allow people with concealed carry licenses to go armed on school grounds and in churches attached to private schools; lower the minimum age for obtaining a concealed carry license from 21 to 18; and allow anyone with a concealed carry license from any state to go armed in Wisconsin. Currently, only people with licenses from states that conduct background checks on applicants can carry concealed guns in Wisconsin.

Assembly Democrats railed against the bills during a news conference before the floor session began, saying the measures would make the state more dangerous.

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"Today we vote on bills that will bring guns to our school grounds, a bill that will allow high school seniors to carry concealed weapons and a bill permitting people from out of state who would normally fail a criminal-background check to carry guns in Wisconsin. As a parent, as a teacher and as a citizen, this is terrifying," Rep. Deb Andraca, an elementary school teacher and a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, a group that works to reduce gun violence.

Republicans defended the proposals at their own pre-session news conference.

"Our Second Amendment rights, those are just critically important to everybody across Wisconsin," said Rep. Shae Sortwell, who is the chief Assembly sponsor for the bill that would lower the concealed carry age. "(We want to) make sure that every adult American, whether they are visiting Wisconsin, whether they are living in Wisconsin, has the same rights under the law."

The Assembly passed all four bills on voice votes, sending them on to the Senate. Evers almost certainly will veto the bills if they reach his desk. Evers called a special legislative session on gun control in 2019 only to see Republicans gavel in and gavel out within seconds. Meanwhile, gun violence continues to increase; the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission tallied 857 nonfatal shootings in that city in 2021, which was nearly 14% more than in 2020 and 93% more than in 2019.

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But Republican legislators face reelection in 10 months and are looking for ways to please their base supporters and give themselves talking points on the campaign trial. Voting on gun rights delivers on both counts regardless of whether the bills become law.

The bills' supporters bemoaned that under Wisconsin's current laws, gun owners who forget their weapons in their cars could be charged with a felony if they drive onto school grounds to drop off or pick up their children

They also contend that 18 year-olds can legally possess handguns so they should be allowed to carry concealed and churchgoers should be allowed to go armed so they can defend themselves if they're attacked during services. As for out-of-state concealed carry licenses, they say current law is confusing and requires people to navigate a maze of red tape.

The National Rifle Association has registered in support of all four bills. An array of organizations have registered in opposition, including the City of Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Council of Churches, the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin: the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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