Firearms are currently prohibited in Wisconsin's Capitol, however, the new concealed carry bill does not specifically ban concealed weapons from the building.
The debate over whether Wisconsin should implement "shall-issue" concealed carry legislation comes to an end as Gov. Scott Walker signs Senate Bill 93 into law in Wausau Friday afternoon, but questions about the implementation of the new law still linger. One question in particular stands out: Will concealed weapons be allowed in the Capitol building?
That decision, it seems, is ultimately Gov. Walker's to make. When he will decide remains to be seen. The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The bill does not prohibit guns in the Capitol, however, it does ban them from police stations and courthouses. The Capitol houses the Capitol Police headquarters, as well as the state Supreme Court chamber.
"The legislation itself is confusing, at best," says Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), who introduced seven amendments -- including one to ban concealed weapons in the Capitol -- that were all rejected.
He points out areas of confusion for private business owners, as well as for the management at Lambeau Field, in addition to the confusion regarding what will be allowed at the Capitol. In particular, he cites a measure that places legal liability on businesses that post signs prohibiting concealed weapons on their premises.
A sensible rule
Erpenbach doesn't see a need for guns in the Capitol, and neither does Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison). Roys thinks the state should "maintain what's been a very sensible rule -- that firearms aren't allowed here."
Weapons in the Capitol are unnecessary, Erpenbach says, doubting the likelihood that law-abiding citizens would have a need to protect themselves with a gun within the building. People are not likely to get mugged in the Capitol, he says, with a pause -- unless they're being mugged legislatively.
The Department of Administration, charged with the task of maintaining the Capitol, has little to say about the possibility of people bringing concealed weapons into the building.
Jodi Jensen, executive assistant at the Department of Administration, says the DOA will consult with the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Capitol Police regarding the implementation of the provisions banning weapons from courthouses and police stations.
"Policies regarding the remaining areas of the Capitol building will be adopted after DOA completes a thorough review of SB 93 and obtains law enforcement input about building security needs," Jensen writes in an emailed statement.
Although Erpenbach says individual legislators would not be able to prohibit people from carrying concealed weapons into their offices if they are allowed in the Capitol building, a "No concealed weapons allowed" sign appeared in the office window of Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison) the day after the Senate passed the bill.
A place for heated debate
The protests that flooded the Capitol in response to Walker's controversial budget repair bill earlier this year made it clear that the building is a place for intense public debate. Erpenbach and Roys share concerns that the presence of guns could have negative consequences.
"This is a place of heated public debate, and that's part of the joy of democracy," Roys says.
Erpenbach says he doesn't think guns should be allowed anywhere where the public gathers for debate.
"This is the type of building where you should not be intimidated at all -- no matter what you think about the issue, no matter what you want to say about the issue, you shouldn't be intimidated," Erpenbach says. "If you're in a situation where sometimes debates get a little bit heated, whether it's between individuals or legislators or whoever, you don't want to have in the back of your mind, 'God, someone could be carrying a gun in here.'"
What about the other states?
While Wisconsin is the 49th state to pass concealed carry legislation, it would be only the 11th state to allow weapons in its Capitol building. According to an Associated Press story published in Henderson, Kentucky's The Gleaner, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington allow people to carry guns in their Capitols as long as they have permits to carry. Florida and Minnesota have more specific restrictions on weapons in their Capitols, but New Hampshire, New Mexico and Utah have no restrictions at all.
The same story reports that Kentucky saw a surge in people carrying guns into its Capitol last spring, at a time during which its legislature was also involved in several heated, emotional debates. According to a review by the AP, between Jan. 1 and March 31, more than twice the number of guns that had been carried inside in the previous year and a half were brought into Kentucky's Capitol.
Texas has taken what some see as an unusual approach in allowing concealed weapons in its Capitol. Concealed carry has been legal in the Lone Star State since 1995, but in May 2010, metal detectors were installed at the Texas Capitol.
According to an AP article published in the Dallas Morning News, "A unique loophole in a new security procedure means a gun permit is like a special-access pass into the domed building, allowing people who are certified to carry a gun to bypass lines at the metal detectors that were set up after a shooting incident earlier this year."
The loophole resulted in a strange trend: journalists, lobbyists and other people whose business required them to frequent the Capitol started to apply for concealed handgun licenses with no intention of packing heat. The permits simply allowed them easy access to the Capitol.
The "other states" argument was used throughout the debate surrounding Wisconsin's bill, but Erpenbach doesn't buy it.
"Massachusetts has universal healthcare ... New York just passed gay marriage," Erpenbach says, adding that Wisconsin doesn't appear to be following the lead of either state on those issues.
"If so-and-so jumped off a bridge, would you do it?" wonders Erpenbach, quoting his mom.
The people's house
All people deserve the right to feel safe in the Capitol, Roys says. This should be the case whether someone works in the Capitol, protests there or simply wants to bring their child inside to get a drink of water on a hot day.
Erpenbach agrees, adding that, as a parent, he would understand that other parents might not want their children to be anywhere that guns might be present.
As someone who works in the building, Roys takes issue with the viewpoint that the Capitol belongs to the elected officials whose offices are within its walls. The enhanced security measures implemented at the height of the protests perpetuated that point of view, Roys believes.
From a personal perspective, Erpenbach doesn't think his safety will be enhanced or threatened by the allowance of guns in the Capitol. As someone who has received his fair share of death threats -- particularly as a result of his role as one of the "Wisconsin 14" Democratic senators who departed the state for Illinois in order to deny the Senate a quorum in its vote on the "budget repair" bill -- Erpenbach isn't personally worried about the presence of concealed weapons within the Capitol walls.
What would not sit well with Erpenbach is the "hypocrisy" of allowing people to walk into the Capitol carrying concealed weapons following the months of intense security spurred by the protests.
"[If concealed weapons are allowed in the Capitol,] it will be obvious to all that the only purpose for those 'security measures' was to suppress the public voice and make it more difficult and more onerous to protest the policies of the Walker administration," Roys says.
Erpenbach wonders if the Capitol would need any security measures if it experienced a resurgence of protesters.
"You certainly wouldn't need metal detectors, would you?" he asks.
Erpenbach raised the same point during a committee hearing in May, when he pressed the bill's author, Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wausau), for her opinion on whether or not concealed weapons should be allowed in the Capitol. He asked for her to reconcile that opinion with the heightened level of security that was implemented in response to Republicans' complaints that they felt unsafe during the protests. She failed to do so.
Those security measures, Roys says, were an "assault on the public's right to gather in this space," and she wants Walker's administration to know the people are watching this decision closely.
A gathering place for democracy
While Roys has concerns with the bill and the possibility of allowing guns in the Capitol, she believes strongly that the right to bear arms is an "important part of Wisconsin's heritage and an important constitutional right."
"At no time was I, or anyone else who expressed concerns, talking about restricting people's Second Amendment rights to bear arms," Roys says.
However, just like other constitutional rights face regulations and restrictions, Roys believes Second Amendment rights should be exercised in a way that doesn't interfere with other people's rights.
"People have a right to be safe, and that's a fundamental thing the government tries to ensure," she says.
Both Roys and Erpenbach want to protect the haven for debate that exits within the Capitol walls, and they fear the presence of concealed weapons would hamper it.
"The Capitol is a place for the free flow of the exchange of ideas," Erpenbach says, and Roys agrees, explaining that the building is an important "actual and symbolic gathering place for democracy."