Standoff over concealed carry: Lessons from Wisconsin

May 6, 2013 (WEST ALLIS, Wis.)

There was - on one hand - rejoicing, and on the other foreboding. A year-and-a-half later, a little over four percent of the adult population is permitted for concealed carry. Opinions remain strongly entrenched.

For a snapshot of how it has worked, we paid a visit to the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis.

Daniele Haber owns a book store in West Allis, Wis. Violent crime here is relatively rare. Daniele has not been a victim, but she grew up around guns, and believes that concealed carry is an equalizer against criminals. Her testament to that is this sign in her front window.

"I believe in my own protection. My own ability to take care of myself," said Haber.

Paul Meincke asked: "Are you armed as we speak?"

"Yes I am. I have a permit and I can carry a concealed weapon," said Haber.

"Can you show me?" asked Meincke.

"No. It's concealed," said Haber.

Just as Daniele has a right to welcome concealed carry permit holders, others have a right to say "No". Wisconsin law says no weapons in government buildings, or schools. No concealed carry on mass transit. Generally, though, unless there's a sign prohibiting it, permit holders can carry inside - even into a bar - but if they do that, they cannot, by law, drink. Even into a church unless there's a sign like the one at this West Allis church: "Blessed are the peacemakers. No weapons allowed."

Since the law took effect, 184,000 Wisconsites have applied for and received CCW permits. They must pass a criminal background check. There is minimal training and they are not required to show any shooting proficiency.

"There's always been that - it's going to be the Wild West, there's gonna be shootouts, there's gonna be road rage incidents. We haven't seen any," said Eric Grabowski, manager of the Shooter's Shop.

Concealed carry proponents contend that the widely publicized fears have shown themselves to be unfounded. And they point to what they consider real success stories. One just last month in West Allis when ex-Marine Charlie Blackmore - a CCW permit holder interrupted a man who was severely beating a woman. Blackmore held the man at gunpoint while simultaneously calling 911.

Blakemore followed the protocols. The attacker was arrested. The victim spared more serious injury.

"So is that a demonstration that concealed carry works? It was a demonstration that prior proper training and being comfortable in understanding and communicating did work in that particular situation," said West Allis Police Chief Chuck Padget.

"We could go back and forth trading anecdotes. That isn't how we develop good public policy," said Jeri Benovia.

Jeri Benovia is one of Wisconsin's leading gun control advocates. Her fundamental argument is that putting more guns into more places just increases risk. More problematic, she says, is that the law does not allow public sharing of felonies committed by CCW permit holders.

"That's very concerning. We have a public policy in place, but the public has no idea whether it's working or not," said Benovia.

The police in West Allis prefer to judge on a case-by-case basis, but the chief concedes that early concerns about CCW and how his officers would deal with it have dissipated.

"It didn't become as big an issue as we anticipated it may be. Doesn't mean next year could be different. I don't know. But to this point it hasn't been," said Padget.

Wisconsin and Illinois are alike, but quite different. Wisconsin is a "shall issue" state - meaning that if you meet the basic requirements of the concealed carry law, you get a permit. Gun control advocates are pushing for Illinois to be a "may issue" state. That means an additional step of convincing police that you have a need for concealed carry, and then they may issue a permit.

That's where the debate is in springfield and where it remains very stuck.

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