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Sweeping change: New state gun law begins

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Law enforcement is about to get more complicated.

Take this scenario: It's after midnight at a local convenience store. A clerk at the counter spots someone browsing by the magazines. A handgun appears to protrude from the person's jacket pocket.

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Fearful of robbery, the clerk dials 911.

With that information, River Falls Police Chief Roger Leque says his officers would respond quickly to check out the armed suspect.

As of Tuesday, Nov. 1, such a response won't be automatic.

Law enforcement dispatchers and officers will have to discern if the suspect is doing anything suspicious besides having a gun in a pocket.

Wisconsin's new Carrying Concealed Weapons Law means a big learning curve -- for everyone.

"It'll be a challenge," Leque said. "With training and a state permit, it will be legal to carry a concealed gun."

Referring to the hypothetical convenience store scenario, Leque said the new law will force River Falls police "to make adjustments to how we respond, with the need to ask more probing questions about a suspect's behavior.

"The fact of a concealed firearm alone will not be cause for a response. Law enforcement will have to revisit how we do business."

Leque, Sgt. Mike Reardon and Patrol Officer Eric Van Nocker recently attended a Wisconsin Department of Justice training session on the new weapons law.

Other in-house River Falls police training will follow. Officers must become skilled interpreters of the many aspects of the new state law called Wisconsin Act 35. It was signed into law by the governor on July 8, 2011.

On Nov. 1, the law allows Wisconsin adults 21 and over who aren't felons to carry a conceal handgun, knife, billy club and electric weapon (stun gun) once they've completed training to qualify for a CCW license.

The application process for such a license opens Nov. 1.

If you have questions about the new gun law, the training and the license, Leque recommended using the Wisconsin Department of Justice as a source, either on the Internet, by phone or though postal mail:

--www.doj.state.wi.us is the Department of Justice website. Click on "Concealed Carry Law" for details including a section titled "Frequently Asked Questions."

--608-266-1221 (by phone)

--Wisconsin Department of Justice/P.O. Box 7857/Madison, WI 53707 (by postal mail)

Even with a license, persons won't be able to carry a concealed gun, knife or club into police stations, courthouses, jails, prisons, K-12 schools or beyond airport checkpoints.

They can bring their concealed guns into businesses, stores, shops or churches unless a legible sign saying otherwise is posted at the entrance.

Other notables for carry and concealed include:

--A River Falls law that prohibits firing a gun in the city limits remains valid. The state's new law, however, allows a person to fire a gun "under circumstances of coercion or necessity or in self-defense."

--While training is aimed at safe and proper firearms use, those granted a license can carry a concealed handgun, stun gun, knife (except a switchblade) and billy club.

--Carry and concealed has absolutely no bearing on a citizen's right to openly carry a firearm. No license is needed to openly carry.

--Transporting weapons: As before, long guns still must be fully encased, unloaded, not hidden and not within reach. A person with a CCW license can now carry a concealed weapon in a vehicle.

Also -- and this is a big change -- the new law says that even those without a CCW license will be able to load, possess and transport a handgun in their vehicles.

--Training for a carry/conceal license can be as simple as having completed Department of Natural Resources hunter education class. There are other firearms safety classes taught by certified instructors, but not in the River Falls area.

Local dentist David Page is lead instructor for DNR hunter education in River Falls.

His 22-hour, 11-session evening classes are held each fall and spring at Meyer Middle School. Cost is $10 per person. Page is assisted by 13 volunteer instructors.

The vast majority of hunter-ed participants are 11- and 12-year-olds.

Page said if the new carry/conceal law brings an outpouring of adults registering to take hunter safe class in River Falls, he might possibly offer a separate, shorter class for adults.

Whereas DNR hunter education is focused on long guns, an adult class for CCW licenses would focus on handgun tactical use, storage and safety

Documentation that a person finished military, law enforcement or security training may also serve as the experience needed to obtain a CCW license.

Leque said the state will keep a CCW database of licensees.

Only under limited conditions, Leque added, will officers be able to access that data base, such as if a person is questioned about a gun, claims to have a license but left it at home.

Wisconsin's new gun law will bring "sweeping changes" for both citizens and law enforcement.

Said Leque: "Those who choose to get a permit for weapons should be especially cognizant of basic firearm safety precautions, such as avoiding an accidental discharge, preventing access by kids of loaded weapons, and the high risk of theft from an unattended vehicle of the contents inside, particularly of guns."

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Phil Pfuehler
Phil Pfuehler has been editor of the River Falls Journal since 1991.
(715) 426-1050
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