Local school leaders question gun proposal

Local school leaders question gun proposal

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Public school officials in the La Crosse area criticized a proposal in the Wisconsin Legislature to allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to bring guns into schools.

The Republican chairman of the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee recommended the measure, even though Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’s spokeswoman Kit Beyer said Wednesday that the measure will not be voted on by the full Assembly but did not say why.

The pronouncement came after the bill’s sponsor, fellow Republican Rep. Joel Kleefisch, said Wednesday he was going ahead with a committee vote to expand the proposal to allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun on school grounds. That amendment was scheduled for a vote today in the Assembly Criminal Justice Committee, which Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, chairs. Kleefisch said that idea didn’t have enough votes to pass the Republican-controlled committee, but he wanted to bring it up anyway to spur a discussion about school safety.

Onalaska Superintendent Fran Finco called the gesture a silly waste of time and a seemingly illogical approach to the topic of school security.

“These are people who are supposed to be running our state,” Finco said. “As opposed to throwing something out that they don’t believe will be passed just for the sake of starting the conversation.”

The idea of allowing any of the 203,000 people with a concealed weapon permit to bring a gun to school raises concerns for local educators about how they would track who is and isn’t armed, whether they’re properly trained, and their intentions.

Monitoring guns would get even more complicated for sporting events, which can draw thousands of people, said Randy Nelson, superintendent of the La Crosse School District.

“Despite the good intentions here, I think it brings more chaos and more questions than it does support,” Nelson said.

Kleefisch’s amendment would dramatically broaden the scope of a bill that would allow off-duty, out-of-state and retired police officers to bring concealed weapons into any private building, including schools, where concealed weapons are not permitted.

“I’m not sure the citizens of Wisconsin want concealed weapons holders on school grounds,” Kleefisch said Wednesday. “But it’s going to get a vote, up or down.”

Forcing a vote on the idea is a high-stakes way to start a discussion, said Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke, a member of the committee that will consider the amendment.

“We’ve got to defeat it. It’s a terrible amendment,” Goyke said. “It is very dangerous and unnecessary.”

The goal is to make schools safer, Kleefisch said. Schools need armed people who can fight back if there is an attack, he said.

But Goyke said that argument doesn’t make sense.

“Good guys and good-intentioned people may sometimes act inconsistent with their intentions,” he said.

The amendment allowing anyone to carry concealed weapons was introduced Oct. 15, five days after the public hearing on the more limited bill. Kleefisch said he decided to introduce it as an amendment and not a separate bill based on the discussion at the hearing, not for any strategic reason.

The nine-member committee consists of six Republicans and three Democrats. The amendment would have to get at least five votes to be added to the bill, which would then have to clear the committee as well as both the Assembly and Senate before it would go to Republican Gov. Scott Walker for his consideration.

A number of organizations have registered in opposition to the idea in the two weeks since Kleefisch introduced it. That includes the city of Milwaukee and groups representing school boards, school business officials and district administrators.

“I don’t hear a lot of parents of Wisconsin school children calling for citizens to be carrying firearms in their schools,” said John Forester, lobbyist for the School Administrators Alliance, which opposes the amendment.

Other groups, including six representing law enforcement officers around the state and the Wisconsin Department of Justice, support the original bill allowing officers to carry them on school grounds. The Department of Justice, which processes applications for concealed weapons permits, has not taken a position on Kleefisch’s amendment.

But without support from Vos, the bill appears dead.

A legislative dialog about school safety could have unfolded earlier this year, when some lawmakers were pushing to give K-12 schools more funding flexibility as long as districts used the money to pay for security upgrades, Finco said.

“That got shot down,” Finco said. “No pun intended.“

La Crosse area schools have taken a number of steps to improve security, including locking doors and asking visitors to be buzzed in, and working with police to improve remote access to school security cameras. Public school officials across the Coulee Region also are using new building projects and upgrades as a chance to improve security, designing entry ways that force anyone coming and going to go through the main office.

Nelson points out that the all of the La Crosse district’s middle schools already have an armed police officer, as do both Logan and Central high schools.

“Schools are the safest places to be in many cases,” Nelson said.

“They’re safer than our streets, they’re safer than our malls, and, unfortunately, in some cases, they’re safer than our homes.”

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