Editorial: State flashpoint: Gun laws vs. gun rights
If nothing else, recent wrangling between Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and Gov. Jim Doyle illustrates that it's time for the state to come to grips with the issues of gun rights and gun violence.
Van Hollen sent a memo to the state's district attorneys stating that openly carrying a handgun in public isn't automatically a crime. The governor responded by suggesting that communities should be allowed to adopt their own gun-control ordinances.
Emotions run high with any effort to balance Second Amendment rights and public safety. That's why the governor, attorney general and Legislature must step back and review these issues carefully and without political posturing.
In his memo to Wisconsin district attorneys, Van Hollen wrote that "we recognize that under certain circumstances, openly carrying a firearm may contribute to a disorderly conduct charge" but that "mere open carry of a firearm, absent additional facts and circumstances, should not result in a disorderly conduct charge."
From a practical sense the memo won't — and shouldn't — affect day-to-day behavior or police policy. There won't be many people who take Van Hollen's memo as an excuse to arm themselves in public.
State laws already exist against carrying firearms into government buildings, into bars and other places where alcohol is sold, and within 1,000 feet of a school. Many businesses and industries also prohibit firearms on their premises. This memo changes none of that.
Green Bay Police Chief Jim Arts tells the Green Bay Press-Gazette that he concurs with the sentiment expressed by Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn, who said: "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 the right to carry it."
Brown County Sheriff Dennis Kocken said he would support his officers if they decide to question someone whom they see openly carrying a firearm. However, he added that as long as the individual isn't acting irresponsibly, there would be no reason to take the matter further.
In responding to Van Hollen, Doyle said he objected to the 1995 law that prohibited Wisconsin communities from passing ordinances that are more strict than state gun regulations. We think — and both Arts and Kocken agreed — the resulting patchwork of municipal gun laws would be a nightmare to enforce.
Whatever regulations the Legislature drafts would have to make sense in Green Bay and Greenleaf, Ashwaubenon and Athelstane. It just would not be good policy to have different rules for different communities.
Let's have this debate and settle it with measured rules that recognize constitutionally guaranteed rights, but also put a premium on common sense and public safety.
After months of trying to get a comment directly from Chief Arts, I am upset that he clearly is too busy or afraid to tell me directly that I will be assaulted and subjected to a harsh detainment while a LEO decides whether I deserve my civil rights.
Sheriff Kochen's statement is consistant with what his department has told me. Of course they would respond to investigate any calls, but would not cause undue interference if there were no other circumstances.
I was planning to take an armed walk around my neighborhood with my wife, but I don't want to subject her to being pushed to the ground and handcuffed by an overzealous officer.