As Congress passes new gun controls, what to know about Wisconsin's laws on concealed carry, age limits and more

In the wake of recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, Americans once again are talking about gun control. Congress even passed the first bipartisan gun safety law in decades.

The legislation, signed into law by President Joe Biden, enhances background checks for gun buyers ages 18-21, provides $750 million for crisis intervention and efforts to allow authorities to temporarily seize guns from people considered at risk, and closes the so-called "boyfriend loophole."

Though hailed as a great bipartisan breakthrough, the legislation didn't tackle more contentious issues such as banning sales of semiautomatic firearms to those under 21, limiting large-capacity magazines or requiring background checks for all gun sales.

What has Wisconsin's Legislature done about gun violence? Over the years, it has passed several laws that increase access to and legal use of firearms.

This year, bills have been introduced to reduce the age for getting a concealed-carry license from 21 to 18, allow legal gun owners to drive on school property with guns in their cars, and recognize concealed-carry licenses from any other state.

Can anyone legally carry concealed guns in Wisconsin?

No. Like in all states, anyone convicted of a felony is banned for life from possessing firearms, unless they specifically get their rights restored. People under a civil commitment for mental issues are also prohibited, as are those convicted of certain domestic violence offenses that might not be felonies. Judges may also restrict access to firearms as a condition of someone's pretrial release.

Is Wisconsin an open carry firearm state?

Wisconsin was among the last two states (the other was Illinois) to adopt a liberal concealed-carry law that allows most anyone not prohibited for the reasons listed above from getting a license to carry a gun. Act 35 became effective in November 2011. As of May, there were more than 460,000 valid CCW permits in Wisconsin. To get one, you must be 21, take some nominal training and pay $40.

Private businesses may post signs prohibiting visitors from carrying firearms, even if they have a license. Violators can be cited for trespassing. But if a business doesn't clearly ban guns, CCW permit holders may enter, even bars — but they may not consume any alcohol while carrying the weapon. That would be a misdemeanor.

Lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow anyone otherwise eligible to carry a concealed gun to do so without a license. Gun advocates refer to such laws as "constitutional carry." Republican gubernatorial candidates — former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Pewaukee management consultant Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Tim Ramthun — all say they would sign the bill. Republican candidate Tim Michels has not weighed in on the issue.

According to 2021 polling by Marquette University Law School, 76% of Wisconsin residents oppose the idea that people could carry concealed weapons without a license or training.

What if you carry a hidden gun without a permit?

The unlicensed possession of a concealed firearm is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to nine months in jail. But even repeated convictions of that offense do not make it a felony, which would bar the person from possessing a gun. You could be convicted and still qualify for a CCW permit.

What about rifles?

The license allows someone to carry a concealed handgun. So-called open carry of both handguns and rifles is also considered legal in Wisconsin. Prior to Act 35, gun rights advocates pushing for a concealed-carry law staged open-carry events or walked into stores with rifles, often prompting their arrests. The cases were usually dismissed after challenges by Georgia-based gun rights attorney John Monroe.

Even minors can carry loaded rifles in public in Wisconsin

Among the charges Kyle Rittenhouse faced after he fatally shot two protesters in Kenosha in 2020 was possessing a firearm as a minor, a misdemeanor. His lawyers said the law only applied to illegal short-barreled rifles and that otherwise, an exception allowed 17-year-olds to carry a rifle. Prosecutors argued under that interpretation the exception would swallow the whole rule and make it illegal for a teen to carry nunchucks but OK to carry a loaded AR-15.

As Rittenhouse's case went to the jury in November, Judge Bruce Schroeder threw out the possession charge. Some lawmakers tried to introduce a bill to clarify that 17-year-olds can't walk around in public with any kind of rifle unless they're hunting or as part of supervised target practice or military service, but it didn't make it out of a Senate committee.

Can a person with a gun 'stand their ground' in Wisconsin?

Not exactly. Wisconsin does not have the same broad type of law made infamous in Florida, but it does have a "castle doctrine" law that extends beyond someone's home. Passed the same year as concealed carry, it says anyone who shoots an intruder to their home, business or vehicle is presumed to have acted reasonably.

What has the Wisconsin Supreme Court said about guns?

Last month, it ruled that, because of how the state's disorderly conduct law is written, people convicted of it in a domestic violence context can still possess firearms. In a concurring opinion, one justice called on the Legislature to close the "nonsensical" loophole.

Last year, the court upheld a ruling that a man whose felony conviction resulted from not paying child support was still banned from having firearms. Leevan Roundtree had argued the ban was unconstitutional as it applied to him because the underlying offense was old and nonviolent.

Does Wisconsin have a red flag law?

So-called red flag laws allow police or relatives to ask a court to force someone suspected of being a danger to himself or others to give up their firearms temporarily. Only 19 states have such laws, but a key piece of the recent federal legislation provided money to states to establish such programs.

It's unlikely Wisconsin will be taking the money. Red flag laws face opposition as long as Republicans control the Legislature. The state party adamantly opposes both red flag laws and universal background checks.

Currently, only federally licensed firearm dealers are required to run background checks on potential gun buyers. Proponents say all gun sales and transfers should be subject to the checks to prevent prohibited people from obtaining guns.

How gun issues have played out in court cases in Wisconsin

Here is a sampling of court cases argued in Wisconsin by Monroe, the Georgia-based gun rights attorney:

Contact Bruce Vielmetti at (414) 224-2187 or Follow him on Twitter at @ProofHearsay.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: What to know about Wisconsin gun laws, concealed carry, red flags