Republicans advance bills loosening Wisconsin gun laws, lowering conceal carry age to 18

MADISON, Wis. — Assembly Republicans passed a series of measures in their first floor session of 2022 on Thursday, loosening restrictions on state gun laws governing conceal carry permits.

The bills would lower the minimum age for conceal carry permit holders from 21 to 18, even while federal law blocks people under 21 from buying handguns from licensed dealers, but not from unlicensed gun sellers.

They would also allow permit holders to keep their guns locked in their cars on school grounds, and allow permit holders from any state to also conceal carry in Wisconsin.

Allowing teens to get conceal carry permits isn’t much different from letting them vote or join the military, Republican bill author Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) argued.

“They are adult enough to make these decisions and yet we are going to deny them the basic human right of self defense,” he said during floor debate.

Democratic lawmakers pointed to rising teen suicide rates and ongoing brain development as reasons to vote down the measures.

“Collectively, what these bills would do, they would allow high school seniors to carry a loaded gun in a car on school grounds, at school events, and while hanging out with their kids after school,” Rep. Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay) said in a press conference. “As a parent, as a teacher, and as a citizen, this is terrifying.”

Conceal carry reciprocity

The Wisconsin Department of Justice currently controls the list of states whose conceal carry permit holders are permitted to also carry in Wisconsin. The agency lists five states and a number of territories whose conceal carry permit holders are not allowed to carry in Wisconsin, and another eight states where special restrictions apply.

The bill clearing the Assembly on Thursday would change that, allowing permit holders from all forty-nine other states to also carry in Wisconsin.

“We’re accepting that other states are making good judgements and we’re saying, ‘You know what, we’re going to respect the judgments of those other states related to their citizens,'” Rep. Sortwell said in a press conference. “It’s not that complicated; it’s not that controversial.”

In a press conference before the session, Democratic lawmakers pushed to have their bills implementing universal background checks and other gun safety measures to get votes on the floor, accusing Republicans of not taking up gun reform.

“Every single parent I know wants this legislature to pass common sense gun laws such as background checks on every gun sale. That is what we should be voting on today,” Rep. Andraca said. “But Republican leadership won’t even give that bill a public hearing.”

Guns on school grounds

Under current state law, guns are not allowed anywhere on school grounds, regardless of whether a person holds a conceal carry permit.

A bill passed today would change that, allowing conceal carry permit holders to keep their guns locked in their cars, as well as another bill allowing guns to be carried in places of worship attached to schools.

“I support the 2nd amendment right to own guns for hunting, sports, and personal protection,” Rep. Andraca said. “But I can also tell you from personal experience, guns do not belong in or anywhere near schools.”

Republicans argue that the bill, suggested by a state trooper, simply makes it easier for adults picking up children from school to stay compliant.

“It doesn’t increase the ability of having guns on school property, it simply allows for common sense usage of your firearm,” Rep. Sortwell said.

The bills go next to the Republican-controlled Senate, before facing a likely veto on Democratic Gov. Evers’ desk.

Photojournalist Lance Heidt contributed to this report.