Wisconsin school boards could opt to allow licensed school staff to carry concealed firearms under a new bill being circulated by a pair of Republican lawmakers.
The bill — co-authored by Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) and Sen. Cory Tomczyk (R-Mosinee) — follows a resurgence of national calls to address gun violence after a school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, where three kids and three adults were killed and a mass shooting this week in Louisville, Kentucky, that left six people dead and eight people injured. There have been 147 mass shootings this year as of April 12, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Allen said the proposal would be one additional tool schools could use to help protect children from gun violence.
“The vision of the bill is to empower [school boards] to have these discussions to decide how they best want to protect their kids,” Allen said. “It doesn’t mandate that they do this. It simply gives them the option to do what the bill proposes, and that is to have them set up their own internal policies that might authorize school district employees to conceal carry a firearm on school property.”
Under Wisconsin’s current gun-free school zone law, people — with the exception of law enforcement officers — are strictly prohibited from carrying firearms on school grounds, and any individual found knowingly possessing one could be charged with a felony.
The Republican proposal would create an exception so that if a school board has adopted a policy allowing school employees to possess a firearm, then someone who is licensed may carry a gun on school grounds.
The bill would also waive application, renewal and background check fees for teachers who apply for a concealed carry license.
The lawmakers said in the co-sponsorship memo that the bill is a result of a request by members of the Germantown School Board. The board passed a resolution in August 2022 calling on the Legislature to allow concealed carry in Wisconsin school districts that request it and provide optional advanced defense and firearm training to staff members. It was passed in reaction to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas where 19 children and two adults were killed.
The co-sponsorship memo cited the board members, who wrote that “the ‘gun free school zone’ signs do nothing but notify a criminal that there will be few, if any, people in the building that can defend themselves.”
Allen said he didn’t have detailed conversations with the Germantown School Board, but his office started evaluating potential policy changes following the resolution.
The idea of the bill, Allen said, isn’t for lawmakers to evaluate the merits of concealed carry policies at schools, but it would instead be incumbent on the school boards themselves to research and consider the policy. He said they would “have that debate as to whether it’s a good thing or not.”
“I don’t confess to be the expert at school safety nor do I think that the school districts are,” Allen added. “But I think each school district can bring in the appropriate expertise to assess what their risk management plan might be and to make those decisions on their own.”
Gov. Tony Evers said in a tweet on Monday that he would veto the bill if it came to his desk. He said Wisconsin residents want commonsense proposals that will reduce gun violence, and this bill doesn’t accomplish that.
“I already vetoed Republicans’ bill to allow loaded guns on school grounds because increasing firearms on school grounds won’t make our schools or our kids safer,” Evers said. “So, let me be clear: I’ll veto any bill that weakens Wisconsin’s gun-free school zone law. Period.”
Allen said he hopes Evers will pay attention to future public hearings on the issue.
“[Evers has] boxed himself into the corner, and it would be hard for him to save face and change his mind at this point,” Allen said. “But I’m going to hold out hope that maybe after the public hearings and such that maybe he will, so I’m willing to have these ideas on the table for consideration rather than simply shut it down and say that’s not even a possibility.”
The bill is a continuation of the impasse between Democrats and Republicans on gun policies. Evers vetoed multiple bills last session that would have made concealed carry easier in Wisconsin, including a bill that would allow people with concealed carry licenses to keep guns in their cars on school grounds and one that would recognize concealed carry permits from other states.
“As a teacher, when you have 28 kids in your classroom, you really don’t want a gun somewhere there because kids can get into everything. The bill that Rep. Allen just introduced suggests that arming teachers and allowing them to have concealed carry permits will keep schools safer. I think anyone who has worked in a school can tell you that is absolutely not the case,” Rep. Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay) said.
Andraca, who is a licensed teacher and holds a concealed carry license, said the bill wouldn’t address the increasing gun violence problem, especially when there is evidence that arming schools doesn’t necessarily stop a shooting from happening.
“If they think that putting more guns in more schools is going to keep us safer, they are absolutely wrong,” Andraca said, pointing out that certain staff members at the Covenant School in Tennessee carried firearms and there was an armed guard at the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “We cannot fortify our schools enough. What we need to do is start taking a look at how many guns we have out there and who is allowed to have them,” Andraca said.
The Uvalde school district also had a robust school safety plan — including its own police force, threat assessment teams at each school, a threat reporting system and the requirement that teachers lock their doors — before the shooting happened there last year.
Andraca said Wisconsin should be talking about implementing policies like background checks on all gun sales and red flag laws, rather than arming teachers, but she said Republicans have repeatedly refused to even consider those proposals. She said the Legislature should focus on the proposals in Evers’ executive budget, but that it’s unlikely to happen.
Evers included several gun control provisions, among them background checks, in his 2023-25 executive budget proposal. Joint Finance Committee (JFC) co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein has suggested those proposals will not make it to the final version of the budget, saying they would need to be passed as standalone legislation.
Allen said the proposed bill is just one possible solution and is one that may not be adopted by every school board. However, he said “in those emergency situations where children are in danger, minutes matter,” and some school districts may see allowing teachers to arm themselves as a good safety measure.
“There’s no perfect solution. We can keep trying and that’s our job as elected officials is to keep trying, but there’s no perfect solution,” Allen said. “We’re not going to be able to stop all violence. I think we can begin to reduce violence.”
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