State senators heard public testimony Tuesday on a bill that would allow off-duty and retired law enforcement to carry concealed firearms on school grounds.
The 2011 concealed carry law prevents citizens from bringing a firearm near elementary, middle and high schools. The proposed bill would exempt off-duty and retired law enforcement personnel from this ban.
Bill co-author and Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chair state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said the proposal would increase school safety in the event of an active threat and noted that he himself was armed during the hearing.
"When you have a firearm for your career, you learn that carrying it is a positive," said Wanggaard, a former Racine police officer. “This is a common sense change to state law with bipartisan support … We want to multiply the good guys with guns.”
David Graves, a retired Walworth County Sheriff, said even off-duty or retired police officers still must uphold a responsibility to protect the public.
“I retired in January, and just because I left my post doesn’t mean I don’t still have a duty to serve my community,” Graves said, adding that retired police officers must undergo extensive training and yearly tests to carry concealed weapons.
While the bill has garnered bipartisan support, the two Democrats on the committee said they were concerned by the potential risks the bill could pose.
"I have a philosophy that the fewer guns on school property the better and more guns could lead to more problems," state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said. “I don’t think it makes schools safer.”
State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, voiced opposition to the bill, referencing officer-involved shootings around the state, including the recent death of Tony Robinson in Madison.
"Increasing guns without training is challenging," Taylor said. “This bill isn’t addressing issues across our state right now. I don’t know when we’re going to get out of pigeonholed arguments to move towards more reasonable gun control.”
Kiel Police Chief David Funkhouser responded by criticizing Taylor’s “rants.”
“We’re not talking about training, we’re talking about giving law enforcement more tools to provide safety for students and staff,” Funkhouser said.
The bill is expected to be approved by the committee and move to the state Senate for debate.