PRESS EDITORIAL: Keep guns away from schools

How thoughtful of the Wisconsin Legislature’s Republican majority to package a bill that allows high-school seniors to get permits to carry concealed guns with a bill that allows guns on school grounds.

The state Assembly last week approved bills that lower the minimum age for concealed carry permits from 21 to 18 and allow people holding permits to have guns in their cars on school property, which is now prohibited by state law.

The bills score a perverse trifecta: They increase the potential for accidental and intended gun violence; burden school authorities with yet another responsibility that distracts from their education mission; and raise the ironic possibility of actually weakening, rather than bolstering, public support for Second Amendment rights by undercutting sensible state firearms regulations with such obviously irresponsible gun legislation.

Sponsors says the legislation is needed because it is unfair to restrict gun permits for people who are old enough to serve in the military. They don’t mention the fact that the state law that restricts the drinking of alcohol by people younger than 21 has the same rationale as gun limits—the safety of young adults and the public affected by their behavior.

Recruits who are 18 or 19 years old carry guns in the military, of course, but as anyone who has had the indelible experience of basic military training could inform the legislators, these young members of the armed forces are issued weapons only after extremely rigorous training in firearms safety. In contrast, the gun safety education required for a concealed carry permit in Wisconsin is cursory at best.

Supporters say ending the prohibition of guns on school grounds is needed to accommodate gun-carrying parents when they drop off or pick up their children at schools. The convenience of armed adults is dubious enough as a reason to change the law meant to keep guns away from schools, but worse is the fact that it would mean that some high school seniors will have guns in cars in school parking lots.

Another consequence of this flawed bill is that some of those guns could come from sources that evade the background checks required of buyers of firearms at licensed dealers. Federal law makes it illegal for anyone younger than 21 to buy a gun from a licensed seller. To buy guns, the under-21 concealed-carry permit holders would have to deal with private sellers who do not require background checks.

There are other unsavory ingredients in the gun legislation bundle. One would allow guns in places of worship located on the grounds of private schools (such as St. Peter of Alcantara Church on the St. John XXIII School campus in Port Washington) if permitted by school policy.

Another would require Wisconsin to recognize concealed-gun permits from every other state, including those that require no background checks or gun safety training.

A test for whether these bills should become law is the answer to this question: What good would they do for the people of Wisconsin?

The best the chief sponsor of the age-lowering bill, Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Town of Gibson), could come up with was: “Our Second Amendment rights, those are critically important to everybody across Wisconsin.”

Everybody across Wisconsin, like everybody across America, already has Second Amendment rights. The right to own a firearm is as secure as any right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It is a right valued as much by owners of traditional sporting rifles and shotguns as by the millions of Americans who have chosen to lead their everyday lives armed with semi-automatic pistols.

The Supreme Court removed any doubt in a 2008 decision that confirmed that the Second Amendment protects a private citizen’s right to own firearms for “traditionally lawful purposes.” No  decoration of this ruling by state legislators with add-ons they think are politically pretty is needed.

What is at work here is pure political greed. Gun rights are not in jeopardy, but politicians can’t resist encouraging fears that they are threatened and try to curry the favor of the fearful by dismantling modest and sensible regulation. For them, when it comes to the Second Amendment, enough is never enough.

After the expected passage by the Republican-controlled state Senate, the bills that would bring guns to school grounds and otherwise weaken gun safety measures should be promptly vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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