As a lover of history, it’s always enlightening for me to go back and read what folks where saying about the gun control debate back in the past. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the lessons to be learned in a 30-year-old copy of Playboy magazine that featured a pro-con debate on the Second Amendment, and I recently ran across another blast from the past: an editorial from the Wisconsin State Journal that ran two decades ago imploring lawmakers to just say “no” to a concealed carry law.
I’ll give credit to the current editors of the State Journal for highlighting the 20-year-old editorial, because it would have been much easier to keep this buried in the online archives, and probably better for today’s anti-gun activists as well. Two decades after running, the editorial doesn’t hold up well. At all.
Some Wisconsin lawmakers want to let the masses pack hidden heat. State Rep. Scott Gunderson, R-Union Grove, and Sen. David Zien, R-Eau Claire, claim their bill will clarify confusion between the state ban and a more recent state constitutional amendment granting citizens the right to bear arms.
The misguided measure uses a state Supreme Court decision as ammo. The court recently ruled that the constitutional amendment allows owners of homes and businesses to carry guns on their property so long as it’s for a lawful purpose.
But gun advocates have intended all along to renew their effort to legalize hidden firepower: The current measure is a carbon copy of a concealed-carry bill thwarted last year by the state Senate. The new measure, allowing gun owners who pass a background check to get a five-year permit to tote their weapon under wraps, is updated only to reflect the court ruling.
First of all, let’s just consider for a moment that 21 years ago gun owners in Wisconsin couldn’t even lawfully bear arms on their own property without guidance from the state Supreme Court and a state constitutional amendment approved by almost 75% of voters back in 1998. It’s easy to look at the blue state defiance to the Bruen decision and think that we’re not making as much progress as we should, but the truth is we’ve already come a long way from where we were just a few decades ago.
Still, some things never change, including the rhetoric of the anti-gunners. This passage could have just as easily been written about Florida’s permitless carry law that went into effect on July 1st of this year as the proposed “shall issue” law under consideration in Wisconsin in 2003.
Wisconsin has wisely prohibited anyone but an officer of the law from carrying a concealed weapon. This smart public policy should stand in spite of a new effort to overturn it.
But the justices breathed new life into a tired argument that exploits public fears of violent crime. It goes like this: Law-abiding people can’t rely on police and need to defend themselves from armed criminals. The bad guys always find a way to get guns, so citizens ought to be able to carry concealed weapons to fight gunfire with gunfire.
But that’s the problem. Overturning Wisconsin’s 130-year-old concealed weapons ban might make people feel safer. But common sense suggests that the more would-be vigilantes stand tall on the streets, the more difficult and dangerous it will be for law enforcement to do its job.
Urge your lawmaker to put a permanent trigger lock on the effort to blow away the concealed weapons ban.
Sadly, the editors of the State Journal got their way, at least for a few more years. It wasn’t until 2011 that Wisconsin adopted a “shall issue” concealed carry system; the 49th state to allow for carry, at least in theory. Illinois followed suit two years later in 2013 after the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s blanket prohibition on bearing arms in self-defense violated the Second Amendment rights of residents.
Wisconsin hasn’t become a crime-free utopia over the past twelve years, nor has it devolved into a dystopian nightmare. Concealed carry doesn’t eradicate violent crime, but it does give responsible gun owners the ability to protect themselves if they’re ever the victim of a violent crime. As in every other state, those with concealed carry licenses are overwhelmingly law-abiding. In the first five years that the law was in place only about 1% of license holders had their CCW revoked, and more than 1,200 of the 3,500 or so revocations were simply the result of the license holder moving out of the state; a larger number than the approximately 1,000 licensees who were the subject of a revocation after a criminal conviction.
The editors of the Wisconsin State Journal were wrong to oppose concealed carry twenty years ago, and their fears of what would happen if and when lawmakers recognized the right to bear arms have failed to materialize. It’s sad to think that their objections still carried the debate for almost a decade after this editorial first appeared, but the state’s gun owners never stopped fighting to secure their Second Amendment rights. Today the anti-gunners are still pushing to punish lawful gun owners will all kinds of onerous restrictions, but 2A supporters have been able to keep most of those bad bills at bay, and with a strong turnout in 2024 they can lay the groundwork for even more victories in the years ahead.