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Thursday, May 23, 2024
Firearms Safety

A sign prohibiting firearms and weapons is displayed on an entrance to Bascom Hall on Jan. 29, 2024.

Democratic bill would ban firearms on UW grounds

The proposed bill would mirror other gun-free public spaces amid student and faculty concerns over safety.

A newly introduced bill by Democratic lawmakers would prohibit the possession of firearms on public and private university campuses, bringing the institutions in line with other gun-free spaces in Wisconsin.

The proposed bill — introduced by Rep. Deb Andraca, D-Whitefish Bay — adds public and private college and university grounds to the exempted places where possessing a firearm would be prohibited. 

“I'm a gun owner [with] a concealed carry permit, and I wanted to make sure that we're not trampling on those Second Amendment rights but at the same time, I'm also the mom of two kids in college,” Andraca told The Daily Cardinal. “I don't think that – most people don't think – firearms belong on campus.”

Before 2011, the use of any “dangerous weapons” was prohibited on university grounds or facilities. However, this UW System rule was superseded by Act 35 — a bill that legalized the concealed carry of firearms and other weapons in Wisconsin.

While the university is still allowed to post notices on campus buildings that ban concealed carry in campus buildings, it cannot currently ban concealed carry of firearms in outside areas on university grounds. 

Andraca’s bill would change that to ban concealed carry on university grounds, bringing campuses in line with concealed carry policies at K-12 schools, police stations and courthouses.

“Our proposal would just say let's make college campuses the same as K-12 schools,” Andraca said, adding that she met with public safety officers from several UW System schools who told her that clarity regarding concealed carry laws would be appreciated. 

Under current law, any person, including a licensee, who carries a firearm into a posted building is guilty of trespassing and fines of up to $1,000. 

The bill would increase the penalty for bringing a firearm into a prohibited building to a Class A misdemeanor. Andraca said the change would make people take the law seriously while not imposing “hardcore criminal” laws on “honest mistakes.”

The bill was advanced at the request of PROFS, an organization that advocates on behalf of UW-Madison faculty. 

Terry Warfield, a UW-Madison business professor and PROFS steering committee member, told the Cardinal the organization requested legislative action after listening to gun violence discussions in the Legislature.

“When there was an opportunity to address this kind of difference in the carry concealed provision in campus grounds and buildings compared to K-12 [schools], we thought, ‘why wouldn't we get behind that?’” Warfield said.

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Jack O’Meara, lobbyist for PROFS, said recent events like the February 2023 mass shooting at Michigan State University reignited faculty discussions around possible action. Warfield echoed this, pointing to an increased number of mass shootings and the trends behind them — as impetus for action.

“A continuation of the pandemic… a combination of stress and student mental health makes us [concerned].” Warfield said. “We hope we can take the right lessons away from these unfortunate events.” 

Additionally, the bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Kelda Roys of Madison and Rep. Sheila Stubbs of Madison, whose districts both cover UW-Madison. In the co-sponsorship memo, the lawmakers indicated polling showing support for gun control on campuses.

According to a 2017 Wisconsin Professional Police Association survey, 71% of respondents opposed allowing concealed weapons on campuses. A national survey in 2021 found a declining support for concealed weapons on campus.

People want us to be more responsible with firearms,” Andraca said. “We're not talking about anything that's going to violate Second Amendment rights. We're just talking about making sure that our college campuses are safe [and] that our professors and staff feel safe doing their jobs.”

The bill faces an uphill climb in the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has opposed gun control measures in the past.

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Gavin Escott

Gavin Escott is the Campus News Editor for the Daily Cardinal. Throughout his time at the Cardinal, he's covered protests, breaking news, and written in-depth features on Wisconsin politics and higher education. He is the former producer of the Cardinal Call podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @gav_escott.

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