Legislators Consider Concealed Carry Policies At Capitol

State lawmakers in both chambers of the Legislature were working furiously on Thursday to draft measures outlining policies whether to allow concealed weapons in various parts of the state Capitol.

With the state’s new concealed carry law set to take effect on Tuesday and Gov. Scott Walker poised to unveil his administration’s policy, legislators sought to clarify their own stance in the area of the Capitol that they control.

Walker told reporters on Thursday that his administration would release its policy on concealed weapons in state buildings Friday. The governor declined to provide details.

A source familiar with Walker’s plan told WISC-TV that concealed weapons will be allowed inside the Capitol dome, but restrictions could be put in place banning them in certain areas of the state house.

Wisconsin would join nine other states that currently allow concealed weapons in their capitols. Walker said those states haven’t had problems.

“There are plenty of states that allow (conceal and carry) access to public buildings and they have not had problems with that,” Walker said. “We don’t anticipate any problems here in Wisconsin.”

The governor didn’t answer directly on whether the policy might call for metal detectors at the state Capitol. Walker said the building operates fine right now.

The other states include Minnesota, which requires consent from law enforcement before concealing a weapon in its statehouse. Kentucky and Virginia have metal detectors, while Texas, Utah, Washington, New Hampshire, Idaho, New Mexico and Oregon do not, according to data provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures, individual states’ administrators, and published reports.

“It scares me to death,” said Katy Reeder, a Capitol protester. “What scares me is having people who aren’t trained and don’t have that judgment. There’s just too much pent-up rage.”

Legislative leaders from both parties offered differing ideas of what they think should be implemented. Some are saying that concealed weapons should be allowed everywhere in the Capitol while others say weapons should be banned all together in the building

If Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald had it his way, no space inside the Capitol would be off-limits for those who carry concealed weapons, WISC-TV reported. However, he said he’s brokering an agreement with other legislators who feel differently.

“We’re working on a compromise,” Fitzgerald said. “I guess is the best way to describe it.”

Fitzgerald said that the governor’s plan gives both chambers of the Legislature the option to make restrictions.

“Based on everything we know, they definitely have left it up to the individual branches of government — and beyond that, a breakdown between the Senate and Assembly on what areas of the building we control,” he said.

As part of the proposed deal with other lawmakers, Fitzgerald said the Senate would ban weapons in the chamber’s galleries. Spokesman Andrew Welhouse said in an email on Thursday afternoon the Senate’s organizational committee will vote on a plan to allow hidden weapons on the Senate floor and at committee meetings, but ban them in the Senate galleries.

That move would mean spectators can’t watch floor debates while carrying a weapon. Individual senators would be allowed to ban weapons in their offices at their discretion.

Meanwhile, Senate President Mike Ellis said he doesn’t want lawmakers or spectators to carry concealed weapons in the chamber or the Capitol at all. But Ellis, R-Neenah, said he would compromise with his colleagues.

“I didn’t want them in the Capitol,” he said, adding he wouldn’t allow anyone to carry a weapon into his office. Lawmakers will have discretion over whether to ban guns in their own offices, WISC-TV reported.

Democratic lawmakers said that there’s little they can do. State Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said that he’s concerned about the idea.

“What I think is not going to make any difference, but I think when it gets high attention and huge debate, maybe it’s not a good idea,” he said. “And I do agree with the president of the Senate on this even though he’s bucking his party on this.”

The Senate’s organizational committee might vote as soon as Friday on their plan.

In the Assembly, the Republican majority leadership wouldn’t comment on what their house has planned, but sources suggest their policy would be more permissive than the Senate’s.

A source told WISC-TV that a committee will vote on allowing concealed carry throughout the Assembly chamber, including in the gallery and the body’s committee meetings.

Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, a Horicon Republican, said on Thursday individual representatives will be allowed to decide whether to allow weapons in their offices.

The Assembly’s organizational committee must approve the proposal, but Fitzgerald didn’t know when the panel might meet. Assembly leaders canceled a meeting of Committee on Organization scheduled for Thursday to discuss their policy.

While under the governor’s proposal, concealed weapons could be permitted in the building, the Supreme Court hearing room would likely be exempted because the concealed carry law doesn’t allow weapons in courtrooms, he said.

The state, as well as municipalities and businesses, must decide whether to allow concealed weapons in buildings.