DE PERE — City leaders may have little choice but to conform to a state rule that says it's OK to carry a gun openly, but they're not sure they want to allow hunting in certain areas of the community.
A city ordinance now forbids the carrying or use of firearms in most parts of the city. There are two exceptions: if you have a permit from the state Department of Natural Resources and the De Pere Police Department to get rid of nuisance animals or to hunt migratory birds or waterfowl in a small section of land off the Fox River in the southwest portion of De Pere.
The city's rule against carrying firearms openly, however, contradicts state law, and the state constitution, which says people have the right to keep and bear arms. State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen recently issued a memorandum to district attorneys saying there's nothing in the state law indicating people can't carry firearms. So De Pere officials likely will amend the local ordinance to meet those standards.
"Does this mean I could walk down Broadway with a fully loaded rifle for my own protection?" Alderman Paul Kegel asked during Tuesday's City Council meeting.
"Yes, but we wouldn't recommend it," Mayor Mike Walsh responded.
And City Attorney Judy Schmidt-Lehman pointed out it's still illegal to shoot a gun in almost all cases.
The council debated the issue, but tabled it so they could hear from a property owner who hunts ducks off his property on the Fox River.
Walsh said the hunting provision was put into the city ordinances a few years ago because a property owner hunts ducks near his pier on the river.
Council members agreed he and other residents should have a chance to speak before the city eliminates that provision. Also, city boundaries have expanded in those years, and leaders said they'd like to know exactly where the man's property is located, as well as how large of an area the hunting provision impacts.
Some said the exception should be killed.
“Realistically, any time in fall (duck hunting season) someone could shoot off a gun on Lost Dauphin Road, and by the time authorities got there, “they couldn’t be sure what happened,” Alderman Carl Castelic said. “There’s no way a gun should be discharged in the city of De Pere.”
But others didn’t see a problem.
“I was on the council that allowed it,” Alderman Mike Donovan said. “It really hasn’t affected anyone.”
Even if the city adopts the new ordinance, it still would be illegal for people to carry concealed weapons. Firearms also would be forbidden in certain areas, such as near or in schools or in public buildings. And it's against the law to carry a handgun into a place where alcohol may be sold or consumed.
A supporter of gun owners’ rights applauded Van Hollen’s memorandum and the city‘s discussion. “In my personal opinion, it’s great they’re doing that,” said Scott Taetsch, field representative for the National Rifle Association’s Field Operations Division in northern Wisconsin. “It’s refreshing they’re listening to what we have to say.”