By Kimberly Wethal
Jan. 27, 2016
Whitewater Unified School District (WUSD) Administrator Eric Runez says there’s very little tolerance for those who choose to bring firearms near their schools, but a state bill proposed earlier this month to allow concealed-carry to occur on public school grounds would change all that.
The bill – a measure Runez calls “ridiculous” – was proposed on Jan. 13 by Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and co-author Rep. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville). Referred to as the Wisconsin School Zone Empowerment Act, it would fix an “unintended consequence” within the concealed-carry law, Lazich said in a news release, where those with concealed-carry would not be penalized for having their weapons on school grounds.
It’s currently a felony to be on school grounds while knowingly possessing a firearm.
If the bill were to pass, school districts would have to comply with allowing concealed-carry on the properties, but would still be granted the right to decide whether those concealed-carry firearms were allowed to be brought inside.
“Wisconsin is home to over 242,000 concealed-carry licensees,” Lazich said. “These are well-intentioned individuals licensed by the state to carry a weapon. This bill clarifies the duties of concealed-carry licensees, while allowing school districts to create policies within school buildings.”
Current WUSD policy is a ban on all weapons within school buildings and on school grounds extending out 1,000 feet from the building, with off-duty Whitewater police officers and county sheriffs being the only exception to the no-concealed-carry rule.
It’s a result of a recent agreement made between the school board and the Whitewater Police Department, Runez said.
Runez, who opposes the measure, said the bill won’t do anything to maintain safety for students and educators in schools.
“My understanding of this proposed legislation is that it’s intended to avoid individuals who accidently may not be aware that they’re carrying and they’re violating school board policy,” he said. “I don’t know whose interest is being served there. It’s not necessarily the interests of the students and the staff.”
Rather, the proposal would turn into a “waste of time,” Runez said, as extra precautions would have to be taken to ensure someone on school grounds with a firearm possessed to the right to have it.
“The ridiculous aspect of this proposed law is if we suspect someone is carrying, we’re going to go after them to see if they’re permitted,” Runez said. “Currently, in the way it stands, we’d rather it be no one’s permitted except for off-duty officers. We’d rather it be clear that this is a prohibited activity rather than schools police whether someone has an actual concealed-carry permit or not.”
From the handful of parents who have come to him with their concerns, Runez said most of them have shared the same sentiment of being “appalled” by the legislation. The responses he’s gotten from his fellow educators have expressed the same sentiments of disapproval.
He doesn’t see any positives for WUSD and the Whitewater community resulting from the “special interest” measure, and said the bill would be a foot in the door for concealed-carry legislation allowing it inside school buildings.
“Schools are not meant to be the Wild Wild West; there needs to be some security we need to maintain for student safety,” Runez said. “In my opinion, it’s a way to further expand concealed carry at places where, quite honestly, it doesn’t belong. I can’t see how that ensures safety.”