Licensed school employees could carry guns on school grounds under new GOP bill

Gov. Tony Evers says he would veto the legislation; gun violence prevention group calls it 'reckless'

A Cobb County School bus moves on street.
A Cobb County School bus moves on street Friday, March 13, 2020, in Kennesaw, Ga. Georgia’s second-largest school district on Thursday, July 14, 2022 approved a policy allowing some employees who aren’t certified police officers carry guns in schools, but excluded teachers from those who can be armed. Mike Stewart/AP Photo

School employees could carry concealed firearms on school property under a GOP proposal rebuked by gun violence prevention advocates and Democrats.

The bill would give local school boards authority to approve school staff with concealed carry permits to bring guns on school grounds.

It would also waive application, renewal and background check fees for teachers to get a concealed carry permit.

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Republicans state Rep. Scott Allen of Waukesha and state Sen. Cory Tomcyzk of Mosinee unveiled the proposal in a co-memorandum Monday.

In an interview, Allen told Wisconsin Public Radio the bill is about school security. It comes about two weeks after a shooting at an elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee, killed three 9-year-olds and three staff members.

“Minutes matter in these cases,” Allen said. “We’ve seen cases all across the country where the time it takes for law enforcement to arrive and to engage the shooter in that intervening time, lives can be lost. So the quicker we can respond and neutralize a threat, the better.”

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers threatened to use his veto pen if the legislation lands on his desk.

“Wisconsinites have been desperately demanding commonsense proposals that will reduce gun violence and keep our kids, our schools, and our communities safe. This bill isn’t among them,” Evers said in a tweet. “This bill shouldn’t make it to my desk — but if it does, I’ll veto it. Plain and simple.”

Federal and state law generally bars the possession of firearms in school, on school grounds or within 1,000 feet of school grounds, according to Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau.

There are some exceptions to the state’s gun-free school zone law, including possession of an unloaded and encased firearm, a firearm used in a school-approved program or under contract with the school, among others.

Nationally, there have been 147 mass shootings in 2023, according to data from the nonprofit research group Gun Violence Archive.

Proposed bill in response to rash of recent school shootings

The proposed legislation is in response to a Germantown School Board resolution introduced in August 2022. In the wake of the school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, the board sought to offer optional defense and firearm training to school staff, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The U.S. is an international outlier, with more civilian-owned guns than people. There are about 120 guns for every 100 residents, according to a global report from the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey.

“We have a violent culture. We need to change our culture if we hope to reduce the gun violence that plagues our cities and our schools in our nation,” Allen said.

Republican leadership hasn’t offered clues as to how far the bill will go in the Legislature. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, did not respond to a request for comment. In May 2022, Vos said he was open to the idea of arming teachers. Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu’s office said they had no comment at this time. But past GOP proposals to arm teachers have failed to move in the state Legislature, according to the Associated Press.

Even so, Allen said he’s optimistic the legislation will at least get a hearing, adding it’s important for constituents to weigh in.

But Nick Matuszewski of Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, a nonpartisan gun violence prevention organization, said arming teachers would only make schools less safe.

“Trying to stop school shootings by arming teachers is like using a flamethrower to put out fire instead of using a fire extinguisher,” Matuszewski said. “The issue here is an over-proliferation of guns in society.”

Matuszewski called the bill “reckless,” saying lawmakers should instead look to other measures like permit-to-purchase laws, universal background checks and “red flag” laws. He said Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort is also working to close a state loophole that allows individuals who have committed acts of domestic violence to maintain possession of their firearms.

Democrats oppose bill, call for ‘commonsense gun safety reform’

Democrats across the state rushed to attack the bill in what marks one of many years-long clashes between the party and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez signaled her opposition in a tweet.

“An entire generation of students have only known lockdown drills and school shootings. Wisconsinites don’t want more guns in schools — they want commonsense gun safety reform,” Rodriguez said in the tweet. “Background checks. Extreme risk protection orders. Let’s get it done.”

State Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard called the proposal “performative” in an emailed statement to WPR.

“Republicans know that it wouldn’t actually make kids safer. Rather than arming school staff as they suggest, we should focus on preventing the horrific act of violence from occurring in the first place,” she wrote.

State Rep. Deb Andraca, D-Whitefish Bay, a concealed carry permit-holder, ripped on the bill.

“I guess it’s becoming harder to find days without mass shootings to introduce bad gun bills. Allowing guns in schools is NOT the answer,” Andraca said in a tweet.

Evers has vetoed a handful of GOP bills on gun policy, including one that would have let concealed carry permit-holders carry guns in their vehicles on school grounds. Another would have shielded gun and ammunition manufacturers from civil lawsuits.

Democrats slammed conservatives for failing to act on alternative measures they say would stem gun violence. Bills that would have required criminal background checks and red-flag laws have stalled, despite broad public support, according to a poll by the Marquette University Law School.

In 2019, Republican lawmakers quickly adjourned a special session called by Evers to expand background checks and a red flag law that would allow family and law enforcement to ask judges to temporarily confiscate firearms from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others. No votes were held.

Allen said he can’t predict the future, but “over the last couple days, my staff has indicated that there’s been a great deal of interest in co-sponsoring the legislation by my colleagues.”