MADISON — Hidden handguns could be legally carried without a license in Wisconsin under a far-reaching, Republican-backed proposal unveiled Tuesday that immediately drew bipartisan opposition.
The bill would also allow licensed concealed carry permit holders to bring firearms into places where they are currently barred, including school buildings, unless signs are posted prohibiting them.
"We're just removing the barrier of the concealed carry permit to give them their constitutional right," said the bill's co-sponsor, Republican Rep. Mary Felzkowski of Irma. She and Sen. Dave Craig, a Republican from Big Bend, began circulating the measure on Tuesday for co-sponsors. Thirty-nine other Republicans, out of 82, were already signed on.
State law requires anyone carrying a concealed weapon to obtain a license and take a training course. The proposed bill would do away with the license requirement for someone who wanted to carry a hidden weapon.
In schools that permit carrying concealed weapons, the bill would allow only license holders to legally bring them onto the grounds or into buildings. But they could carry the weapons under a newly created permit that does not require any firearm training. And they could leave firearms in their cars while picking up or dropping off students.
Under current law, illegally bringing a weapon onto school grounds is a felony punishable by up to 3½ years in prison.
Past attempts to allow guns on school grounds have been met with bipartisan opposition in the Legislature, as well as from the law enforcement community and school officials.
The measure drew immediate opposition from a bipartisan group of lawmakers, while Gov. Scott Walker and GOP leaders offered general support without promising to get behind the specific proposal.
"Governor Walker is a strong defender of the 2nd Amendment and the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves," Walker's spokesman Tom Evenson said in a statement. "The governor has worked with the legislature in the past to advance the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and their families through one of the strongest concealed carry laws in the country."
Republican state Sen. Luther Olsen joined with Democrats in opposing the bill. Specifically, Olsen objected to letting guns on school grounds and removing requirements for taking firearm safety classes.
"I don't know what its chances are," Olsen said of the bill in the Legislature that has its highest Republican majorities in decades. "It depends on the day in this place."
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he was "generally supportive" of the bill, but also hedged his bets on whether it will pass saying he would "monitor public support as we determine our next steps." Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has been a strong supporter of Second Amendment protections and planned to discuss it with other senators "to determine the level of support," his spokeswoman Myranda Tanck said.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said it was "completely irresponsible" to allow people to carry concealed weapons without obtaining a permit.
The so-called "right to carry" bill comes six years after Wisconsin legalized concealed weapons. More than 300,000 people have active licenses.
The new measure, championed by Second Amendment gun rights advocates, would make Wisconsin the 13th state to allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit, according to the National Rifle Association. North Dakota became the most recent state to enact such a law, sometimes referred to as "constitutional carry," last week.
Scott Rausch, a spokesman for the NRA, called it a common sense proposal that would allow anyone who can legally possess a firearm to do so without having to "jump through government hoops and pay fees to exercise a basic constitutional right in the way that works best for them."
The Wisconsin proposal would create a three-tiered system for carrying hidden weapons. The current concealed weapon permit, which requires users to go through training on how to use a firearm, would remain and would be an option for people who need it to carry their weapons into certain other states.
A new basic permit would be created that does not require any firearm training, but that could be used to carry a concealed weapon onto school grounds in Wisconsin that don't prohibit it.
The bill would also legalize the carrying of Tasers, which are sometimes used by police to electrically shock someone into submission.
Craig said it's all about freedom.
"Why not allow more freedom under something that is a fundamental right?" Craig said.