Is the convenience of people who carry concealed guns more important than the safety of students, local control of schools and the views of a majority of the public?
The answer should be obvious, but State Rep. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) doesn’t seem to get it. He and State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) introduced legislation last year that would force school districts to allow guns on school grounds.
The bill did not advance in 2016 and it is not clear what its prospects for passage in the current legislative session are. Given the demonstrated influence in the Legislature of the NRA gun lobby, whose agenda calls for eliminating gun-free zones such as schools, anything is possible.
Sensible existing state law forbids guns carried by civilians, including concealed-carry permit holders, on school grounds and in school buildings. Most school districts have policies reinforcing that ban.
The Brooks-Lazich bill would weaken the state law and limit school districts to restricting firearms only in school buildings where classes are taught. Concealed-carry permit holders would be allowed to have guns on school grounds and, apparently, at school facilities not physically part of school buildings, such as athletic fields, stadiums and fieldhouses.
One purpose of the bill is to relieve conceal-carry permit holders of the risk of violating the current law by driving onto school grounds with guns in their vehicles. This would be a convenience for armed citizens that could come at a price. Schools and their grounds are gun-free zones for a simple reason: The presence of guns is a safety risk.
Since 2007, according to data gathered by the Violence Policy Center, shootings by concealed-carry permit holders have caused 898 deaths in America that did not involve self-defense. The toll includes 139 deaths caused by permit holders in 29 mass shootings.
What is disturbing about the bill, besides its effect of introducing deadly weapons into children’s environments, is that it steps on local control of schools. Brooks has described the bill, which is misleadingly named the “Wisconsin School Zone Empowerment Act,” as “empowering school boards to develop conceal-carry policies,” but in fact it would deprive elected boards of power—the power to declare their school grounds off limits to guns, an authority the public supports.
A survey conducted by the highly respected Marquette University Law School polling organization last year found that 65% of Wisconsin residents oppose allowing concealed-carry permit holders to have guns on school grounds.
The current state law makes possession of a gun on school grounds or in school buildings a felony. The Brook-Lazich bill would reduce the crime of taking a gun into a school building to a misdemeanor, and would extend the privilege of carrying guns on school grounds to not only holders of permits issued in Wisconsin, but those from other states as well.
When the bill was introduced a year ago, it drew criticism from a number of school officials. Recently, opposition to the bill has been voiced in the Grafton School District by the public, as well as by school board members.
A parent told the school board at its Jan. 23 meeting that the bill endangers children’s safety and raises “the risk of deadly accidents.” Board member Clayton Riddle urged the board to “vehemently oppose” the legislation for taking away local control. At a meeting last week, board member Julia McNally called for a resolution opposing the bill. The board will consider sample resolutions at its next meeting.
Other school boards that object to “empowerment” that weakens their ability to keep their students safe should follow Grafton’s example and get ahead of this misguided legislation.