Wisconsin lawmakers are considering letting gun owners take weapons more places, and with fewer regulations. The measure is before a Senate committee, which took testimony on Wednesday.
Dozens of people lined up to testify on the measure, in a hearing that lasted all day. Speakers focused on two particular aspects of the bill: rules regarding guns on school grounds; and training requirements for gun owners.
Wisconsin has a law allowing people to take concealed weapons in public. Owners must obtain training and a state permit. Now Republicans are pushing a "constitutional carry" bill. It would let people carry concealed guns -- without a permit or training.
Gun owners told the committee Wednesday there's no need for the state to require gun safety classes. Michael Cook says all gun owners know the "four universal rules" for handling firearms:
"Rule one, assume all guns are loaded always; Rule two, don't point your gun at anything you don't want to destroy; Rule three, keep your finger off the trigger until you want it to fire; and rule four, make sure you know everything that's behind your target. If you follow those rules, there are no accidents."
Such comments didn't sit well with state Sen. Lena Taylor. The Milwaukee Democrat says if gun owners are circulating in public with weapons, it makes sense to ensure they know how to handle them.
"I voted for concealed carry, I believe that people have a right to carry. But I believe that some levels of restriction are appropriate for other people's interests, to very candid, because we don't live in the world alone," Taylor said.
The other portion of the bill, which drew the most debate, was how the measure changes rules for school grounds. Under current law, guns are prohibited. The bill would lift the ban, although schools would have the option of posting signs indicating guns are forbidden.
Michael Stewart of the group Wisconsin Firearm Owners backs the change. He says today's restrictions are unreasonable.
"I have a child, I used to pick him up at school. We would go hunting. We would go duck hunting, and I'd have a shotgun in the back seat. I probably have more training than you'd care to hear about. I technically may have been in a situation where I could have gotten in trouble for doing something like that," Stewart says.
The head of the state school board association says its members have mixed opinions. But 95-year-old Earl Thayer is unequivocal in wanting to keep a distance between guns and young people. Thayer says he grew up hunting, and served in World War II. He says after the war, he gave away his weapons -- with tragic results.
"One of those guns killed my nephew by suicide. (He was) a young man who was upset by a disagreement with his girlfriend. Watching the news lately, it's apparent that fits of anger or disagreement, however brief, have caused far too many gun killings," Thayer said.
Thayer says if lawmakers approve the constitutional carry measure, the state would be guilty for any death that might result. If Wisconsin adopts the bill, it would become the thirteenth state with such a law.