Open-carry ruling triggers gun debate

Kenosha sheriff, police chief weigh inBY BILL GUIDA

While the state’s top attorney says it is legal for residents to carry unconcealed firearms in public, Milwaukee authorities say they won’t stand for it.

“My message to my troops is if you see anybody carrying a gun on the streets of Milwaukee, we’ll put them on the ground, take the gun away and then decide whether you have a right to carry it,” Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said.

“Maybe I’ll end up with a protest of cowboys. In the meantime, I’ve got serious offenders with access to handguns. It’s irresponsible to send a message to them that if they just carry it openly no one can bother them.”

Meanwhile, Kenosha County’s top cops said how their officers and deputies will respond to openly armed citizens won’t be automatic and aggressive, depending on a number of factors, including the setting and behavior of the citizen involved.



Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen issued a memo saying the law allows carrying unconcealed weapons without a permit, as long as it’s done peacefully and within specified restrictions, such as not taking guns into schools.

Van Hollen’s memo concluded that citizens have a constitutional right to openly carry firearms and doing so cannot alone warrant arrests for disorderly conduct.

Morrissey and Beth said they agree with Van Hollen’s interpretation of the law but said how their personnel will respond on scene will be dictated by circumstances.

Morrissey said his main hope is that those who exercise their right to carry a weapon openly understand fellow citizens might react adversely, triggering calls to police.

“And we are going to respond to those calls,” Morrissey said. “I don’t know that we’re going to take them down.

“If it’s an individual just walking down the street carrying a gun, we may just stop them and talk to them. Someone cutting their grass with a push mower, openly wearing a gun — for whatever reason somebody might want to do that — we’re not going to take him down.”

Like Morrissey, Beth cited nuanced police responses based on what deputies observe. He noted the difference between, for example, spotting someone toting a shotgun in a farm field in a rural area where hunting is common versus carrying the same weapon on a city street or in downtown Paddock Lake.

“If I’m in the city, I’ll probably react just like Chief Flynn says in Milwaukee,” Beth said. “In an urban area, that isn’t the norm.

“What creates a disturbance is someone’s perception of what’s going on,” Beth added. “If our officers see someone walking with a shotgun in the city of Kenosha, we’re going to order him down, take it away from him and ask questions afterward.”

Morrissey cited a recent situation at a Kenosha grocery store where a customer entered the store wearing a holstered sidearm outside his jacket.

“That created a terrible stir. Other customers and the store manager wanted him to leave the store,” Morrissey said.

When police arrived, the man willingly gave up his handgun, and police returned it to him after he exited the store. Morrissey said the man never acted aggressively and obeyed all police orders. Had he done otherwise, he could have faced disorderly conduct charges or more serious charges, Morrissey said.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, however, echoed Flynn’s response.

“How we approach a person with a gun, I can tell you right now, isn’t going to change. As far as a law enforcement person is concerned, you just don’t walk up to a person with a gun and say ‘Excuse me, sir,”’ Clarke said. “On the ground, give up. Get that gun under control and then we’ll figure out what we got here.”

Wisconsin is one of 29 states that allow people to openly carry a firearm without a permit. It’s one of two states that bans concealed weapons.

Flynn’s comments came as gun control advocates and state lawmakers derided Van Hollen’s ruling.

“The idea of people ... openly carrying guns strikes me as somewhere between bonkers and totally ridiculous and stupid,” said state Rep. Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee., a gun advocacy Web site, issued a statement saying the finding was “spot on.” The Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association said the memo clearly finds people can bear arms in an orderly manner.

I get mentioned (not by name). I was the guy oc'ing in the store. There certainly was not a huge fuss with other customers - it was late at night and I even had passed by a state trooper who noticed the gun but didn't say anything. The teenager supervisor is the one who had a problem.