MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s concealed carry law isn’t even a month old, but thousands of your friends and neighbors already have permission to pack heat and they’re buying up the hardware to do it.
Wisconsin became the 49th state to allow residents to carry concealed weapons this month. Questions about liability still linger, but gun sales have increased across the state and the state Justice Department has been deluged with so many permit requests it’s already scrambling to keep up.
“Long time coming,” said Matt Slavik, 58, of Brookfield. He hand-filed applications for himself and his wife at the Justice Department’s Capitol office on the morning of Nov. 1, the first day the new law was in effect. He said he got permit No. 20 in the mail two days later; his wife got No. 86 a day after him. “It’s been wonderful, just to put the sidearm on as I start the day. I just keep it underneath my shirt and nobody knows. It’s very comfortable.”
The National Rifle Association had pushed concealed carry legislation in Wisconsin for most of the last decade but kept running into former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s veto. Republicans took control of the Legislature and the governor’s office last year, though, and made concealed carry one of their top priorities. Gov. Scott Walker finally signed a bill this summer.
Under the law, state residents 21 or older who pass a background check and can prove they have taken firearms training can obtain a permit to carry concealed. Private property and business owners can choose whether to allow concealed weapons.
In the four weeks since the law took effect, gun sales have jumped. The Justice Department’s handgun hotline, a number gun sellers can call to initiate background checks on would-be gun buyers, had received 7,355 calls between Nov. 1 and Monday; the line has averaged about 6,550 calls per month throughout the year. The record for monthly calls is 7,859.
Roger Wendling, owner of Monsoor’s Sport Shop in La Crosse, estimates he’s seen a 25 percent to 30 percent increase in handgun sales this month. Some of the more popular models have been .38-caliber Sig Sauers and Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolvers, both small, snub-nosed weapons that are easy to hide.
About 70 percent of the concealed carry clientele have been women, he said. They’ve leaned toward revolvers with laser sights and handbags with special compartments for hidden weapons, he said.
Jim Clark, manager of Central Wisconsin Firearms in Wausau, estimated his handgun sales have increased at least 20 percent over the last month, with customers going with small models such .38-calibers and 9-millimeters.
“Most of them, it just tends to be they want that added protection,” he said.
The state Justice Department, meanwhile, is wading through tens of thousands of permit requests. As of Tuesday, the agency had received 44,443 applications, approved 13,085 and issued 12,708 permits.
The agency had rejected about 3,000 requests, said Brian O’Keefe, administrator of DOJ’s Law Enforcement Services Division. The reasons have varied, from not being a Wisconsin applicant to missing basic application information like date of birth or failing to enclose the $50 application fee.
More than 400 applicants tried to use an out-of-state concealed carry permit as proof of training but failed to include a form confirming their permit was valid, O’Keefe said. About 540 applicants didn’t include sufficient training documentation, such as not including the name of their instructor, he added.
Under the law, the Justice Department has 45 days to approve applications received before the end of November. After that, the agency has only 21 days. The law authorized $236,700 for 11 new hires, including 10 six-month employees whose stints will end in March, to handle applications. But O’Keefe said they’ve gotten so many requests they’ve had to pull other agency employees in to help. He said on any given day 30 to 35 people might be working on applications.
Agency administrators say they need another $1.5 million to fill an additional 14.5 positions to handle applications. DOA passed the request on to the Legislature’s finance committee on Wednesday. The money will go through unless a committee member raises concerns by Dec. 15.
“Without (the additional positions) … it is highly likely that the concealed carry program will be unable to keep up with present demand and be in noncompliance with (the law),” DOA budget analyst Peter Kirby wrote in a memo to agency secretary Mike Huebsch.
Percolating beneath it all are questions about business owners’ liability.
The law grants immunity to property owners who allow concealed weapons in their establishments, but does not address the issue for property owners who bar them. That omission has given rise to a legal theory that owners who ban concealed weapons could be liable for injuries someone suffers in a shoot-out because the owners prevented the wounded from defending themselves.
Democratic state Sens. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton and Tim Cullen of Janesville asked Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen for an opinon clarifying the liability issues earlier this month, calling the liability clause “counterintuitive and illogical.” Van Hollen, a Republican, refused to comply. He said he’s not legally bound to supply legislators with legal opinions.
Gwen Bryan, owner of Louisianne’s Restaurant in Middleton, said she’s frustrated with the law and with Van Hollen. She said she wants to ban weapons in her restaurant, but wants the guarantee of legal immunity that comes with allowing them.
“Van Hollen isn’t living up to his duties as attorney general,” she said. “Everybody’s very confused about this law. Only a lawyer can figure out the way it reads, with the jargon … It’s unfair we’re put in this situation. Walker says we’re open for business. This is not looking out for business.”
Justice Department spokesman Dana Brueck said the agency can’t give legal advice to private citizens. If the law truly is counterintuitive and illogical, as Erpenbach and Cullen say, it’s up to the Legislature to address it, she added.
To Slavik, at least, the issue is clear.
He won’t go to establishments that don’t allow concealed carry. He said it’s too inconvenient to disarm and leave his gun in the car before he goes inside. What’s more, criminals will know which businesses don’t allow weapons, making them targets for bad guys who want to rack up high body counts.
“I’ve lived my 58 years obeying the laws, paying my taxes, loving my family, going to church,” he said. “Now that I have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, I’m treated like a criminal. I’m not wanted in their businesses anymore. To me, it’s an insult.”
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