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Democratic proposal would prohibit firearms on Wisconsin college campuses

UW-Madison professors approached lawmakers about strengthening campus gun laws

students walk on the campus
Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

A proposed bill would prohibit firearms on university campuses across Wisconsin.

Current law allows a university or college to post notice on a building to prevent a person from entering it while carrying a firearm. But it does not prevent guns from being on campus grounds. 

Wisconsin is one of 12 states that allows guns on college campuses. 

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State Sen. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, and state Rep. Deb Andraca, D-Whitefish Bay, were approached by a group of University of Wisconsin-Madison professors and asked to strengthen campus firearm laws.

The bill would also change the penalty for bringing a gun into campus buildings from a Class B forfeiture — which is essentially trespassing — with a fine up to $1,000, to a Class A misdemeanor with up to nine months in jail. 

Jack O’Meara represents the Public Representation Organization of the Faculty Senate, or PROFS,  a nonprofit advocacy organization of UW-Madison faculty. He said there was increased concern after the Feb. 13, 2023, mass shooting at Michigan State University. In that incident, three students were killed and five others were injured when a gunman entered a building on the East Lansing campus.

O’Meara said since faculty began working with Sen. Roys and Rep. Andraca on the campus gun bill, there was a shooting at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. In that shooting in August 2023, UNC Associate Professor Zijie Yan was killed in a science building on campus. 

“With the combination of the pandemic, serious mental health issues, university campuses can be high emotion, high stress environments, so faculty are concerned about that,” O’Meara said. “We believe this bill is consistent with what the vast majority of what Wisconsinites believe.” 

In a 2017 Wisconsin Professional Police Association survey, 71 percent of respondents opposed allowing concealed weapons on university campuses.

A national 2021 survey found that support for carrying concealed weapons on university campuses fell from 36 percent in 2019 to 27 percent in 2021. 

Andraca said she wants college campuses to be as secure as K-12 schools, which have prohibited firearms since 1991 under former Gov. Tommy Thompson. 

“What a lot of people don’t understand is that in Wisconsin, two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides,” Andraca said. “So, particularly where kids are away for the first time and emotions are running high, we’re actually talking about the safety not just of the firearm owner, but of everybody around them.”

The proposal comes at a time when Republicans have passed several bills that would expand gun rights rather than restrict them.

O’Meara doesn’t expect the bill to gain traction this legislative session. But he said it is important for people to know that guns are allowed on college campuses and get the proposal introduced. 

Roys said she hopes the bill gets a public hearing, but she’s not sure if it will. 

“We know that this bill does have broad support amongst the public, but that’s no guarantee in the Capitol,” Roys said. “I think in the last session, fewer than 3 percent of the bills that were heard were authored primarily by Democratic authors, and unfortunately that doesn’t’ seem very different this session.”