Madison gun owner Auric Gold said he often carries a handgun in a holster while walking in his east side neighborhood, a right that attorney general J.B. Van Hollen affirmed in a memorandum to prosecutors on Monday.
Van Hollen said it's legal to openly carry a gun on the street in Wisconsin and advised prosecutors that merely having a gun doesn't, by itself, warrant a disorderly conduct charge.
The advisory gives those who choose to carry guns in public more confidence in doing so but isn't likely to spark a rush to arms, said Gold, who works with OpenCarry.org, a gun rights advocacy group based in Virginia.
"Most of those inclined to do it already knew it was legal," said Gold, a 54-year-old photographer. "Those that choose to do so should be able to do so without interference."
There didn't appear to be a noticeable increase in publicly armed residents Tuesday, but that could change.
A group of Wisconsin gun advocates is planning a picnic in July with food, soft drinks and handguns, Gold said. Organizers are looking at locations in Burlington, he said, and a second picnic is being planned for the northern part of the state.
The events would give gun owners an opportunity to "enjoy each other's company and exercise the right to open carry in Wisconsin," Gold said.
Van Hollen's memorandum removes the fear of prosecution that kept some people from carrying firearms openly in Wisconsin, said John Pierce, co-founder of OpenCarry.org, who expects "a flood" of people to begin doing so. ...
So far, so good, right? Unfortunately, law-abiding Wisconsin citizens will apparently still need to contend with an anti-gun governor, at least one anti-gun state legislator who, despite being a former cop, seems utterly clueless about the law and the Wisconsin Constitution, and Milwaukee's anti-gun police chief:
... Reacting Tuesday to questions about Van Hollen's memorandum, Doyle said local communities should be able to adopt their own ordinances relating to guns. He said he objected to a 1995 law that barred municipalities from enacting gun regulations that are more stringent than state regulations and wiped out about 35 local gun-control ordinances.
"To me it's a very different issue whether you're walking down Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee with a gun on your hip and . . . if you're carrying a hunting rifle through a town during hunting season," Doyle said..
There are constitutional considerations regarding such ordinances, and Doyle's position would require a change to state law. He stopped short of calling for that Tuesday, but others did not.
Rep. Leon Young (D-Milwaukee), a former Milwaukee police officer, was surprised by Van Hollen's memorandum and said he's drafting legislation to change or clarify state law to prevent people from openly carrying weapons.
"I'm just totally in opposition to putting more guns on the streets," Young said. "We have too many incidents in which people are being shot and killed in Milwaukee." [emphasis added]
Even if the Legislature repealed the statute that limits local gun regulations, ordinances against open carry would be challenged on constitutional grounds, said James Fendry, director of the Wisconsin Pro-Gun Movement. The constitution provides the right to bear arms, and if the state law prohibits concealed carry, open carry must be allowed to ensure people can exercise that right, Fendry said.
Meanwhile, some law enforcement officials are preparing to face more open-carry situations, and some are clear the memo won't change their approach.
Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said he'll continue to tell officers they can't assume people are carrying guns legally in a city that has seen nearly 200 homicides in the past two years.
"My message to my troops is if you see anybody carrying a gun on the streets of Milwaukee, we'll put them on the ground, take the gun away and then decide whether you have a right to carry it," Flynn said. "Maybe I'll end up with a protest of cowboys. In the meantime, I've got serious offenders with access to handguns. It's irresponsible to send a message to them that if they just carry it openly no one can bother them." [emphasis added]
In communities where shootings aren't as common, police say they'll at least be asking questions.
"We all anticipate in the metro area that some people who are very passionate about this topic may exercise this right, and there may be reason for us to stop and talk to them," said Wauwatosa Police Lt. Dominic Leone.
Cudahy Detective Dala Milosavljevic said Van Hollen's advisory creates a new atmosphere for police.
"It's going to be like the Wild West where they have the holster strapped down to their leg," he said.
But Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said Van Hollen's memorandum changes very little for prosecutors, and few citizens are likely to begin openly carrying firearms as a result.
In a practical sense, there are limited locations where it would be legal, given statutory prohibitions against carrying firearms in businesses with liquor licenses, in school zones or public buildings, he said.
"I do have faith that the vast majority of people are going to continue to use the same sound judgment and not openly display or carry firearms in a public setting," Chisholm said. [emphasis added]
Seems to me that "sound judgment" would dictate carrying firearms "in a public setting[.]"
Anyone else find Milwaukee police chief Flynn's comment utterly repugnant to freedom and respect for the rule of law? The Wisconsin Constitution protects the right to openly carry a firearm. Yet Mr. Flynn's threatened response to any law-abiding citizen who dares to exercise that right is to instruct his officers to prone out on the ground and forcibly disarm that citizen, evidently for no other reason than that he or she had the nerve to exercise a constitutionally-protected right. Chief Flynn's comment disgraces his department, and dishonors himself and his office. Perhaps the chief is used to driving a desk, and hasn't spent much time on the streets recently, but I'll bet the violent criminals in Milwaukee aren't carrying openly; only the law-abiding citizens are. The violent criminals, sensibly, carry their guns concealed, an option that's not available to the law-abiding Wisconsinite.
I suspect and would hope that should such patently outrageous behavior against law-abiding citizens on the part of the Milwaukee Police Department occurs, that the department will be sued forthwith, and have to pay large sums of money in damages and attorneys fees. Repeat as necessary. Ideally, what ought to happen if such unlawful conduct occurs, but probably won't, is that the officers involved, and Chief Flynn, should be prosecuted by the feds for civil rights violations. But that's probably wishful thinking.