MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The Wisconsin state Assembly passed a bill Tuesday with bipartisan support to legalize the carrying of concealed weapons, a change Republican Gov. Scott Walker supports and was expected to quickly sign into law.
Once that happens, Illinois would be left as the only state in the country that doesn't allow carrying concealed weapons. Depending on when Walker signs it, Wisconsin's law will take effect in either October or November.
Backers of the bill called it a "great day for the 2nd amendment" that was long overdue given that 48 other states already allow concealed weapons. Supporters said the measure would help people take control over their own safety, especially from people who illegally obtain guns.
Bill sponsor Rep. Jeff Mursau, R-Crivitz, called his proposal "a great first step for citizens of this state to personally be able to protect themselves."
Democrats said there was no reason to change the law.
"The majority of the public in Wisconsin is not banging down our door insisting that we pass this law," said Rep. Donna Seidel, D-Wausau.
Wisconsin Republicans have been trying for years to legalize concealed carry, but former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed it twice in 2003 and 2005.
Democratic lawmakers joined with Republicans, who control both the Senate and Assembly, in passing the bill this year. It cleared the Senate 25-8 last week, with six Democrats in support. It passed the Assembly on Tuesday on a 68-27 vote, with 11 Democrats and one independent joining 56 Republicans in support. One Republican, Rep. Don Pridemore of Hartford, voted against it.
Under the bill, concealed weapons would be allowed in most public buildings, including the state Capitol and city halls, unless there is a sign posted saying they are not permitted. The weapons would be barred anywhere within 1,000 feet of school grounds, police stations, jails and prisons, courthouses, secure mental health facilities, and beyond airport security checkpoints.
Current law would be loosened when it comes to keeping guns in cars. Under the bill, permit holders could keep loaded, uncased guns in their cars. Guns are currently only allowed in cars if they are unloaded and in a case.
Opponents said there weren't enough protections against people who don't want to worry about being in public buildings, hospitals, domestic abuse shelters and other places with people carrying concealed weapons.
"Putting more guns on the streets, particularly in Milwaukee, is the worst thing we can do," said Rep. Leon Young, D-Milwaukee, who pushed for barring guns at neighborhood festivals. It was rejected.
Democrats also argued that the training requirements under the bill, which don't require a person to actually fire a weapon to obtain a permit, were not stringent enough.
"Let's just do it right," said Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca. "Let's make sure when we give people this ability, they know what they're doing."
The bill headed to Walker is narrower than what some gun advocates wanted. It would require people who want to carry concealed weapons to obtain a permit and go through training. Another version of the measure, which Walker indicated he would not support, wouldn't have required any training or permits.
Barca, who said he owns several guns and likely would apply for a permit, said permit holders should meet more stringent standards in neighboring states like Minnesota where actually firing a gun is required as part of the training. Republicans rejected his proposed changes.
Rep. Mary Williams, R-Medford, said she agreed meaningful training was necessary but she supported what is required under the bill.
"I hope all of us who want to pack a pistol, we all get training," Williams said.
Acceptable training under the bill includes courses offered by the Department of Natural Resources, a law enforcement agency, or organizations that certify firearms instructors.
Permits would only be given to Wisconsin residents over age 21 who go through the required training and clear background checks that show they are not felons or otherwise not allowed to carry guns. The permits would cost no more than $50 and be good for five years, with a $25 renewing fee.
The names of those with a license in Wisconsin would be kept in a database maintained by the state Department of Justice. Police could only access the database to confirm that someone who is carrying a concealed weapon has a valid permit or investigate whether someone lied when applying for a license.
The names of people who have guns would not be made available under the state's open records law.
Carrying a gun without a permit would be a misdemeanor.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn and Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm have advocated for increasing the penalties for those who illegally carry guns or purchase them from felons. A separate bill to do that was pending in the Legislature.
Two protesters were removed from the Assembly gallery for yelling at lawmakers about their free speech rights during debate of the bill.
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