Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Democrats and school advocates in a public hearing Wednesday blasted a “constitutional carry” bill, saying repeal of the state’s school gun-free zone law would endanger students’ safety.

But gun rights advocates and GOP backers defended the measure, arguing it simplifies state law while protecting otherwise law-abiding gun owners from receiving felony charges when picking their kids up from school.

The bill would allow schools to post signs on their buildings and grounds banning weapons while eliminating the state’s school gun free zone law, although the federal gun-free school zone law still applies.

Dan Rossmiller, of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, told senators on the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee that his members believe “guns and children are not a good mix.”

“I think there are ways we can address many of the concerns of law-abiding citizens without completely repealing the state’s gun free zones law,” he said.

Still, Republican supporters argued the bill would help rectify a concern from parents and guardians driving through school zones. Under current law, parents picking up their kids from school with a firearm in the vehicle would need to unload the gun and put it in a locked case in order to avoid being penalized. But the bill would allow the gun to stay loaded and out while in the car.

“If I drop my kids off at school, should I be a criminal?” said Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, who testified in favor of the legislation earlier in the day.

But Rossmiller later said the bill would create a “slippery slope” because it allows parents to have a weapon in the car, but for those who get out of their vehicles to greet or help their kids while carrying a weapon, it would still mean they’re “in violation of the law.”

Chair Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, pledged committee members would “work on correcting that.”

Speakers also fielded questions from Dems on whether gun training should be retained under the bill.

Under current law, anyone who carries concealed weapons must first obtain a permit and get training, although those who open carry in Wisconsin can do so without any permits or training. The bill would remove those requirements for concealed carry.

Wisconsin Firearm Owners President Michael Stewart, a licensed firearms dealer, said in his experience, “people seek training on their own.”

But Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, asked Stewart why it shouldn’t be required under the bill.

He responded that people will “voluntarily” seek out training, adding there shouldn’t be a condition placed in law to exercising a person’s right to carry a gun.

“The issue with guns is that it’s your constitutional right,” Stewart said.

Earlier in the hearing, Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, told GOP bill authors Rep. Mary Felzkowski and Sen. David Craig that requiring all gun owners to get training would make everyone safer.

“The difference is that you don’t believe they need to be trained,” she said. “You believe it is sufficient to put weapons in the hands of untrained individuals.”

But Wanggaard pointed out the bill “does not say that you cannot receive training,” adding that he personally thinks individuals “need to receive some training.”

Taylor also scolded NRA lobbyist Scott Meyer, who said during his testimony that owning firearms was “one of the great equalizers” after the Emancipation Proclamation for “the blacks.”

“Don’t say ‘the blacks’ — don’t say that,” she told him.

His comment came after questions from Wanggaard on whether the NRA supports firearm training.

Meyer said while NRA had been a proponent of training, over the years they learned many people weren’t getting the training because they couldn’t afford it.

“The cost of training for minorities and poor people was prohibitive to protecting themselves,” he said. “What we found is mandated training is actually prohibitive to protecting yourself.”

See more on the bill:

GOP lawmakers propose ‘Right to Carry’ concealed weapons

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