Gun laws in Wisconsin: A review

Permits not required for gun purchases
Gun laws in Wisconsin: A review

Friday’s mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., is already sparking conversations over gun control, and the debate is likely to only get more heated.

Saturday, President Obama expressed his desire to open up talks across party lines.

“Any of these neighborhoods could be our own,” Obama said. “So we have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

Under Wisconsin state and federal law, someone who wants to purchase a gun does not need a permit.

For rifles and shotguns, the buyer needs to be at least 18 years old and have a valid ID. After filling out some paperwork, the federal government runs the background check, which gun sellers say typically takes only about 30 minutes.

A person wanting to buy a handgun needs to be at least 21 years old. Those background checks go through the state’s Department of Justice and require a waiting period of at least 48 hours before a buyer is approved.


Anyone convicted of a felony, charged with domestic abuse, or restricted by tribal orders is banned from legally purchasing a gun in Wisconsin. On top of those restrictions, if someone has been committed to a mental institution, treated for alcoholism, or judged mentally ill in court, that person also cannot own a gun.

Saturday reports from Newtown, Conn., say Adam Lanza, the man who killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself, likely suffered from a personality disorder.

UW law professor Michael Scott has looked at the psychological profiles of the gunman in these mass shootings. He qualifies most as “disturbed” in one way or another, with a number of them seeking vengeance for some perceived alienation from society.

“Predicting future activity and future dangerousness is inherently difficult, but nonetheless, we can identify people who are in some form of mental crisis and try to intervene early on,” Scott explained.

That said, Scott believes a number of factors have contributed to a recent spree of mass killings across the country, with five widely publicized shootings in the last six months.

“It’s not uncommon to see a spade of these where one follows another one fairly soon after,” Scott said.

Scott said part of the solution is paying more attention to mental health and helping these individuals before their actions turn deadly. He also believes it has become easier to acquire powerful combat weapons and large amounts of ammunition, making it more accessible to gunmen like Lanza. 

Scott also said security could be improved in public buildings where these mass shootings tend to happen.

“We don’t have to live in a fortress society,” Scott said. “There are ways in which we can design buildings and develop procedures that don’t have to be overly intrusive and don’t have to restrict our routine activities, but still give us better protection.”

By Scott’s count, there have been about 75 mass shootings in the United States since the University of Texas killings in the 1960s. Scott said 600 to 700 people total were killed in those events.

“It’s never any one thing, so if we’re trying to protect society, we need to make sure that we have a safety net that addresses all of the, at least the half dozen contributing factors that make it easy for or allow these shootings to happen,” Scott said.