Bill proposal to allow guns in UW buildings

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By Kimberly Wethal

Oct. 21, 2015

 

A bill introduced last week would allow concealed carry inside the buildings and athletic complexes of all UW System campuses – but it doesn’t come without concerns from UW-Whitewater and UW System officials and legislators from around the state.

Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Milton), who serves the state’s 43rd district in which the City of Whitewater is contained, said the bill came as a surprise to the other legislators, calling it an overreaction to the mass shooting at a college campus in the state of Oregon almost three weeks ago.

“The campus carry act, as it’s being called, is ill-conceived and a knee-jerk reaction to the Oregon campus tragedy that I believe will take us in the wrong direction,” Jorgensen said. “Studies have shown us that more guns mean more gun-related deaths.

“In a high-stress environment like a college campus, I could see the increased prevalence of guns leading to greater instances of gun violence or even suicide,” Jorgensen said. “That’s the last thing we want to see happen.”

The bill was introduced by Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) and Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg).

Current law allows concealed carry for permit owners on all UW campus grounds, but allows each individual campus to set their own rules on allowing weapons inside the doors of their academic and residential buildings.

UW-W allows concealed carry on campus, but does not allow them in buildings or athletic complexes.

If passed, the bill will repeal the current UW System gun ban, overriding a campus’ decision to keep permit-holders from carrying their weapons indoors. There are signs posted on UW-W campus buildings and athletic complexes, and other UW System schools have done the same.

It’s not just UW System schools affected by the bill; the Wisconsin Technical College System would also be required to remove any restrictions against concealed carry inside their buildings as well.

Kremer defended the proposed bill by saying the current bill is not stopping those who want to cause “mayhem” from doing so on campuses.

“How are we stopping them from carrying guns on campus?” Kremer said in an article published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week. “We’re not.”

Kremer said he’d been working on the bill for months after he noticed an increase of violence targeting UW-Milwaukee students in the areas surrounding the campus. The ban on concealed carry leaves students “vulnerable,” he stated in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as students with concealed carry permits must keep their guns in their vehicles or in their homes, excluding residence halls.

Jorgensen instead says that the bill is “dangerous territory” because it suggests the lawmakers know better than policymakers on each campus.

“There’s a uniqueness to every campus, and to every community, actually,” Jorgensen said. “A bill like this is a one-size-fits-all, and says that this is the way it’s going to be.”

Gov. Scott Walker declined to take a stance on allowing concealed carry inside UW buildings when he talked to reporters near the UW-Madison campus last week, but said he’d look at the legislation.

“I mean I think the bottom line is, the biggest fear I have about firearms are people who are not legal to have them in the first place,” Walker said. “Those are the criminals.”

Walker and many of his GOP colleagues disapprove of expanding background checks past federally licensed gun dealers to guns shows and private sales.

The UW System released a statement on behalf of President Ray Cross and the system’s chancellors last Tuesday in response the bill, stating their disapproval for the measure.

“We take the safety of our campus communities very seriously and know that our legislative partners do as well,” the statement read. “We have significant concerns and questions with this proposal and cannot currently support it. We are, however, actively engaged in a dialogue with the legislative authors, Regents and campus police professionals to ensure our concerns are addressed.”

Campus leaders from other UW Systems such as UW-Eau Claire, UW-Milwaukee and UW-Stout have also released statements, many of them sharing in the same opposition and general concerns as UW System leaders.

One of the main concerns involved with the bill are the lack of training concealed carry permit holders receive in order to carry a weapon.

Sen. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) doesn’t agree with Kremer and LeMahieu’s bill proposal, saying she doesn’t believe more guns on college campuses will make the spaces any safer.

“My husband is an avid sportsman, and I’m used to being around guns, but I just think it’s totally unnecessary to have guns on campuses and our buildings,” Ringhand said. “That’s just how I felt when this bill was passed that people are allowed to carry guns into the Capitol. They can have them in the Capitol and the assembly parlor, the senate parlor, the senate hall … if you feel that threatened, maybe you should not be where you are.”

Campus Concerns

Chief  of the UW-W Police Services Department Matthew Kiederlen shares some of Ringhand’s concerns.

However, Kiederlen doesn’t think a bill such as the one proposed would bring any change to the day-to-day operations of the UW-W Police Services, but still has concerns about the amount of training needed to carry a concealed weapon.

To get a concealed carry permit in Wisconsin, applicants over the age of 21 must be able to prove residency within the state, not be prohibited from owning a firearm under federal and/or state law and complete a hunter safety course.

The same hunter safety course requirement is the biggest of any concerns that bother Kiederlen.

“Officers spend hours, days, weeks, months in their careers shooting targets and responding in stress-related scenarios, all types of things,” Kiederlen said. “Constantly, constantly, constantly in order to perform as well as possible under a horrendous situation. You’ve got people who have a concealed carry permit that went through a hunter’s safety course, which has nothing to do with how to efficiently handle a firearm in a high-stress, life-or-death decision moment. That’s my biggest problem with this, my biggest gripe.”