Concealed and carried
Wisconsin fails its citizens by limiting right to arms
By RICHARD BAKER
Last Updated: Sept. 20, 2003
Last October, a woman was walking to a convenience store on Milwaukee's north side when she was dragged into an alley by five thugs.
There, for 45 horrible minutes, she was repeatedly raped and beaten. Her assailants made a bonfire of her clothing. Neighbors heard her screams and called the police, who scoured the area, looking for her. Finally, but too late to stop the attack, one officer saw the flames from her clothing.
This woman became one of the 1,100 women who are raped in Wisconsin every year. She will bear the same emotional scars that more than 6,800 victims of assaults in our state have to suffer each year, the same scars as the 4,500 victims of robbery, the same scars suffered by the more than 12,000 Wisconsinites who are victims of other types of violent crimes every year.
Had she been allowed to defend herself, this woman might not have been attacked at all. But she was unable to defend herself because Wisconsin only allows law enforcement officers to carry weapons for self-defense.
Those who oppose legalizing concealed carry argue that we don't need a concealed carry system because Wisconsin already has a relatively low crime rate. In essence, these opponents are saying that 24,000 rapes, assaults, robberies and other violent crimes every year constitute an acceptable level of criminal violence.
Forty-five states have rejected this notion and recognized the rights of citizens to defend themselves against criminal acts. Just ten days ago, Missouri became the 45th state to pass a concealed carry law, after the legislature overrode their governor's veto of a bill similar to that proposed for Wisconsin. In June, Minnesota passed a concealed carry law nearly identical to the one proposed for Wisconsin, just as Michigan did in 2001.
The idea of legalized concealed carry is hardly new. Florida established its concealed carry system in 1987. Washington state's law was passed in 1935, Indiana's in 1934. Vermont has had no restrictions on either concealed or open carry since the state was founded in 1791.
In every state where legalized concealed carry has been proposed, opponents have predicted apocalyptic consequences and have advanced the same arguments almost verbatim.
Will their predictions of "blood in the streets" come true in Missouri, Minnesota or Wisconsin? Will the general population be put at risk or police officers' lives put at risk? Will law-abiding citizens be transformed into deranged killers simply by obtaining a permit? Will citizens not know how to properly handle their firearms? Will their guns be taken from them by criminals and used against them?
Consider that from October 1987 to October 2002, Florida issued 828,608 concealed carry permits. During that period, only 1,542 permits were revoked for convictions for any offense more serious than a traffic ticket, the majority of which were for offenses unrelated to firearms. That's a revocation rate of eighteen one-hundredths of 1% percent over a period of 15 years, or twelve one-thousandths of 1%annually.
Compare that percentage to the general public, 5% of whom are arrested for the same offenses annually.
Moreover, as of 1996, Florida reported that only five permit revocations were the result of a conviction for a violent crime. Data available from other concealed carry states show similarly minuscule permit revocation rates.
Clearly, those citizens who take the time to undergo training, background checks and who are willing to go through the process of applying for permits are overwhelmingly law-abiding - even more law-abiding than the general public.
Opponents argue that armed citizens have no effect on crime. They argue that a citizen with a gun doesn't have sufficient training to thwart a criminal attack. Incredibly, they claim that a criminal will just take the gun away from the citizen, a suggestion that is countered by data from the FBI.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that approximately 500,000 citizens successfully defend themselves with firearms against criminal attack every year. This indicates that for every criminal who used a weapon illegally, somewhere a law abiding citizen defended himself or herself.
An ongoing study by the criminology department at Florida State University indicates that the number of defensive uses of firearms could be as high as 2.5 million annually, or a 5-to-1 ratio of defensive vs. illegal uses of firearms. The study reports that 86% of the time, no shots are fired; merely threatening a criminal with a firearm is a sufficient deterrent.
The FBI Uniform Crime Report shows that, for the most recently analyzed year, 215 criminals were killed by armed citizens, including concealed carry permit holders. The above data shows that, not only are citizens capable of successfully defending themselves with firearms, but that they do so with remarkable restraint. Permit holders are not the shoot-'em-up cowboy types that opponents portray.
Opponents of concealed carry also argue that police officers oppose such legislation, claiming that armed citizens will put officers' lives at risk. In other words, the opponents are saying that law-abiding permit holders are would-be criminals.
Street-level officers are trained to approach every encounter with a citizen with the assumption that the citizen may be armed. A concealed carry permit system gives the officer the advantage of knowing if the driver has a permit to carry when he calls in the license plate number on the vehicle. The officer can then, at his own discretion, ask the permit holder to turn over his gun for the duration of the stop, or simply leave it holstered.
Permit holders have never been, nor will they be, a threat to the lives or safety of police officers. To the contrary, permit holders have come to the aid of numerous officers in trouble, saving officers' lives.
Wisconsin can be proud of our law enforcement officers. Their level of professionalism and dedication is unquestionable.
But it is the rare citizen who has an officer arrive in time to stop a violent crime in progress. There's no doubt that the officer who came upon the burning clothing of the rape victim was trying his absolute best to save her. But with just one officer for every 1,200 citizens, police help simply cannot be guaranteed.
Under current Wisconsin law, the only weapon available to citizens for self defense is pepper spray, which is nothing more than an aerosol form of a Cajun condiment. It is effective against an attacking dog, but not against an assailant high on methamphetamine or cocaine.
In the event of a criminal attack, a cell phone in the hand means help is 10, 20 or even 30 minutes away. A gun in the hand means help is just a trigger-pull away or, far more often than not, that the criminal will turn tail and run away.
In just a few weeks, our elected officials will have to make a decision regarding concealed carry. Some will decide to restore the right of self-defense to trained, licensed, law-abiding citizens who want the ability to defend themselves.
Other elected officials will vote with the anti-gun lobby to maintain the current "acceptable" levels of rapes, robberies, assaults and other crimes of violence.
For the good people of Wisconsin, such a coldly calculated, purely political vote should be completely unacceptable.
Richard Baker is treasurer of the Wisconsin Concealed Carry Association.
From the Sept. 21, 2003 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel