Concealed carry gun laws as they have been proposed in Wisconsin are the language of hopelessness, of a sinking ship, every man for himself.
Recall, if you will, the designer of the Titanic making place for himself in one of the scarce life boats he provided, saving his life while many drowned, finding himself a pariah in America, and dying alone as the story unfolds.
Arranging for life boats, or personal safety, is essential to a democracy. But good governance finesses the individual drive to survive with a common good whereby all become more secure. Banding together ennobles the human spirit. Privilege fractures these natural outcomes.
And privilege needs no help from the government. Privileges arise from birth or money, and define an ever smaller circle of citizens, the few escaping the demands of society. Privilege will dominate government by the sheer force of its resources—if we allow.
And today we have elected officials privileging vigilantes who are moved by fantasies of instant, violent justice, capital punishment on the street. Cop, judge, jury, executioner—licensed by the State of Wisconsin.
There are plenty of things broken that government can fix: millions without health insurance, low wages that force both parents to work and to leave children to their own devices, the defunding of public schools, a century of manipulated energy, transit and sprawl policies that force the poorest worker to buy a car.
How privileged, traveling guns will help no one explains, but a host of blundering elected officials are out to lunch with the gun lobby but AWOL on our essential needs.
From these troubles we sometimes breathe a sigh of relief. Recent reports that crime rates are down give us hope; but a change in that statistic is as ineluctable as the size of the song bird population. What has state government done lately to help reduce crime? Cold weather, lower unemployment or cheaper illegal drugs might have done more.
When elected officials pander to hysterics, and talk about rising crime even as crime rates are falling, whom are they serving? Good government does not raise fears in public while promoting a life boat business on the side.
The law, however, should not prevent someone from using a life boat that jeopardizes no one else. So, from the other side of the aisle, let us find the common ground which would allow citizens to go armed in Wisconsin—the safety of all being our purpose. Let us try to accommodate them, without endangering others or the very fabric of safety that has carried this state so well for a century and a half.
Proponents of concealed and carried weapons argue that the act of carrying concealed weapons adds to our common safety.
Their critics say we have lived with and suffered from unrestricted gun ownership, especially in cities, and the results tell us to restrict guns. If the critics are confident that more guns create more hazards, perhaps a new law can be fashioned to resolve this argument; let us use a new law to get data that we can evaluate.
Perhaps our common ground is our common safety, whether one carries or not. With our mind on that goal can we create a gun policy that enjoys state-wide acceptance? Can we strive for a common safety? Can we experiment, test new premises, examine the results and then modify or sunset what we have devised? Can the privilege of carrying be predicated on service to all citizens?
Carrying Guns is a Public Activity
For this experiment, let us agree on a premise that carrying a gun—concealed or not—is a public activity, with primary obligations to all of us. Licensed carriers will be persons known to the general public. If we honor their motivations, and if the carriers bring honor to themselves by excluding misfits from their own ranks, such an experiment may succeed in wresting a consensus from this bitter debate.
The founding fathers addressed the conflict, safety and danger, that guns present with words that invite every generation to face those issues, and solve the problem anew. The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” [Bill of Rights]
Let us accept the challenge in our times and write Wisconsin law to govern our “well regulated militia.” Wisconsin will regulate the militia’s scope, activity, responsibilities.
Even the word “militia” is so 18th century. What once were muskets are now automatic weapons that endanger our police officers. What once were minutemen—men leaving their shops and farms with rifles in hand—is now a standing army and national guard. What was once a nation wary of foreign entanglements is now the most powerful empire in history with military bases in 130 countries around the world.
Times change but the founding fathers understood that implementing constitutional language is the proper work of the elected legislature.
To carry a concealed weapon in Wisconsin one would apply to join the State Militia. This militia will be sworn to protect all of our civil and human rights, not merely the right to bear arms.
So, too, the people of Wisconsin in 1998 have spoken. [“The people have the right to keep and bear arms for security, defense, hunting, recreation or any other lawful purpose.”—Wisconsin Constitution, Article I, Section 25]; “lawful purpose,” of course, requires clarification by the legislature.
Let us direct our legislature to define Wisconsin’s “lawful purpose” as a strategic effort towards the common safety. The principle of common safety will include the carrier’s personal safety—not mere convenience—but like a sworn police officer, the carrier will have larger responsibilities, as a ship designer supplies life boats for all, not just himself.
The Carried Gun
The gun that is carried, then, will be an object of public interest.
The applicant shall qualify with a specific gun and will be licensed to carry only that gun. The Department of Justice will disqualify a gun that is inappropriate.
It will be registered so that if it is lost or stolen due responsibility for its recovery will fall to its owner. If it is used, even in practice, a report will be filed on the Department of Justice web site for the public to assess how this gun and this law is serving the public.
Upon application for this license to carry, the gun itself will go to the state crime lab for bullet marking study. This policy may help the Department of Justice track the gun, and may reassure the rest of us that the owner of the gun is vigilant about the gun’s security.
If the gun is lost or stolen, the license will be suspended and cannot be applied to a new gun until the local police chief or captain signs off on the report of the missing gun. The replacement gun will be registered, thereby reactivating the license to carry.
The licensed gun will be registered by identifying its manufacturer or personal markings, and setting an engraved mark at the Department of Justice. Several fired bullets from the Department of Justice laboratory will be in this record.
As safety devices for guns reach the market, the legislature will move to require these features on carried guns.
The law will forbid carrying any gun into anyone’s home without the explicit invitation of the resident, and the consent of residents in a duplex, the landlord or the association governing the cooperative or condominium.
Public gatherings are the security concern of local law enforcement, and shall therefore be off limits to concealed, privately carried guns. The law will specify those places where one may carry a concealed weapon, such as, public sidewalks, while in one’s home, business, or car, with provision for encasing and disabling the gun whenever necessary for public safety. Carriers must make arrangements in advance to check the gun upon arrival at their destinations.
The owner or occupant of a private building may petition the local police chief or the elected sheriff to allow concealed carried guns inside of the building. In this case the owner or occupant shall signify the building with notice at each entrance that licensed persons may carry a concealed gun on the premises. The signage shall be standardized by the Department of Justice.
Government and public buildings, sidewalks and parks will implement this law in the same manner as private buildings, using the same signage as designed by the Department of Justice. The local government (city, village, or town) shall make decisions about carried weapons by ordinance, using accessible public hearings for measuring the widest possible public opinion.
Signage, then, will be the responsibility of those who wish to permit carried concealed weapons in their buildings. The law will stipulate statewide that unsigned buildings are off-limits to guns.
Building managers may provide lockers near entrances for secure storage of guns.
A jurisdiction (city, town, village) may choose to ban all concealed carried guns from all places, sidewalks, parks, and buildings, whether public or private, within its jurisdiction. Notification of this ban will be sent to the Department of Justice which will notify all licensed carriers.
The license applicant must be at least 28 years of age and must swear on oath that for the past ten years he or she has had no drug or alcohol dependence, has not been convicted of a crime or misdemeanor, and has not been the involuntary subject of a court restraining order or the subject of a police investigation into domestic violence.
The applicant must inform immediate neighbors of his request for a license to carry. The gun license will not be issued for 90 days after this step is taken. Emergency licensing in connection with court restraining orders will be available but this process will waive only waiting periods.
The application will be public information and anyone may comment in a sworn affidavit about the fitness of the applicant.
These affidavits will be in the custody of the local police chief and available for inspection only under court order. However, a discretionary copy of the affidavit will be prepared—one that blocks information that could identify the affiant. Both copies of each affidavit will be filed securely with the Department of Justice. The discretionary copy will be available to the public.
If an affidavit is challenged, the challenge will be in writing and included in the public record.
The background check will be coordinated by the Department of Justice which will search records in Wisconsin and in the other 49 states, as well as the records of weapons restrictions imposed by the federal government. The background check will look for reports of drug or alcohol dependence, violent activities, complaints by neighbors, chronic hazardous driving habits, as well as involuntary court restraining orders, or the presence of the applicant at domestic violence police calls or bar fights. These reviews will have a standard at least as high as the screening of police officers; fitness to serve the public in this role must be determined with evidence. The local decision maker may require psychological testing as well.
Carrying a weapon is a public activity and must be governed by public need first, the personal convenience of the carrier second. The recent erosion of local gun rules in Wisconsin have occurred under the rubric of “not inconveniencing” the gun owner. This simplistic approach to guns ignores the fact that cities have specific concerns from the abundance of hand guns.
Public service makes demands and public citizens must be ready to forgo personal convenience. Fear of crank phone calls, for instance, will not deter a public servant from her or his duties. Most public citizens experience crank letters or phone calls; gun carriers do not need a mother government to protect them from harmless, if annoying, critics.
The applicant will undergo arrest and gun training comparable to that of a police officer. Rock County Sheriff Eric Runaas laid out the working principle when he said “We can teach people to hit a stationary target. That’s not an issue…. [but how] do you teach people when, and when not, to pull a trigger?” Training and psychological evaluation must be sufficiently thorough to alleviate this widely held concern. The local community crime council shall work with the Department of Justice to set standards for training.
The training facility will be designed to give personal attention to each applicant. The training team shall have a variety of skills related to the use of firearms, including psychology and cultural diversity. The facility will be monitored for compliance and managed locally, with resource assistance from the Department of Justice. Training facility records of licensees and applicants shall be available for review by the local police and by the local community crime council.
Training shall include procedures for detaining a person in order to reduce the chance any gun may need to be fired.
Training will be monitored by the Department of Justice and the local community crime council to assure that each facility maintains a level of quality congruent with the intentions of this law.
Awarding the License
The decision to award a license to carry a concealed weapon will be made by the local police chief, or district captain, with the advice of the local community crime council. After the decision and at a public ceremony, the captain of the local police district, or the local sheriff will administer an appropriate oath to the licensee, induct the licensee into the State Militia, and award the license.
This event should be ceremonious to impress upon all the seriousness of delegating police responsibilities to individual citizens.
(A word of explanation: The local community crime council is a meeting of citizens who have the political authority to require the local police captain to answer questions about crime and patrol allocation. Its proper goal is the cooperative improvement of safety services to the community.)
Debate about the make-up of such councils will likely be vigorous, but its members shall come from the block watches and other centers of activity in the neighborhood; it needs to be culture, gender and age balanced. The council shall not be a law enforcement unit competing with the local police. Because licensing for concealed carried guns may be one of its preoccupations, I would suppose it should have a minority of members who have a license to carry a gun.
Legislation will be written to enable local community crime councils.
Testing This Experiment
This law and the licenses it authorizes will each have an expiration date. The law must be evaluated by the public with unfiltered access to the public record.
State Legislative committee hearings in preparation for, or in renewal of, this law will be held in any county or major city that requests such a hearing whether by council resolution or by letter from the chief executive. Such hearings will include the public, duly notified, as well as local elected alderpersons or county supervisors.
The license to carry a concealed gun will be awarded for one year at a time, with requalification requirements every 2 or 3 years. The local community crime councils may be given discretion to requalify licensees more often.
If the licensee moves to another jurisdiction, the license continues at the discretion of the local police chief or county sheriff—with due public notice.
The Department of Justice shall determine which states have comparable licensing requirements. Visitors with licenses to carry from those states will be required to learn Wisconsin rules before carrying a concealed gun. All other visitors will be required to apply for a Wisconsin license if they wish to carry a gun.
The Attorney General shall report to the legislature on the results of this law, making recommendations as are appropriate from the data collected.
The people will review the Attorney General’s report and abandon, revise or extend these laws as they see fit.
Guns a State Secret - Part I
Sell More Guns in Wisconsin - Part II
Contact Sell at
See Sell’s archives for some of his other writing.