Wisconsin Republicans pass bill allowing some high school students to bring a gun to campus

The GOP-backed bill comes amid a national upsurge in gun violence

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer
Published January 24, 2022 5:13PM (EST)
Updated January 25, 2022 10:48AM (EST)
A person holds a gun (Omer Urer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A person holds a gun (Omer Urer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Wisconsin Republicans just passed a spate of gun rights measures that include lowering the state's concealed carry age requirement from 21 to 18, effectively allowing high school students to carry firearms on school grounds.

The decision was approved by the state assembly last Thursday as part of an ongoing Second Amendment push by the lower chamber's GOP majority. 

"If you're old enough to fight for your country, [if] you're old enough to sign contracts, if you're old enough to decide who the president of the United States is, we think you're old enough to be responsible with your rights and to be able to protect yourself," Republican Rep. Shae Sortwell of Gibson, the bill's chief sponsor, said last week. 

Guns are typically banned on school property in Wisconsin, but according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one of the measures would do away with this convention. The bills would also allow Wisconsinites with concealed carry licenses to bring firearms into churches as well as permit out-of-staters with a concealed carry license to bring guns into the Badger State, according to the Associated Press

Wisconsin Democrats, for their part, have railed against the legislative package amid the national uptick in gun violence. The Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission recorded a total of 857 nonfatal shootings in 2021 – about 93% more than that of 2019.  

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"Guns do not belong anywhere in or near schools," said Democratic state Rep. Deb Andraca. "Collectively, what these bills would do, they would allow high school seniors to carry a loaded gun in the car to school grounds [and] at school events."

Democratic state Rep. Lisa Subeck likewise questioned whether guns "make people feel safer," saying, "In this state, you can get a concealed carry permit and never once get any hands-on firing a gun and that's terrifying."

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Jeri Bonavia, executive director of Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE), a grassroots organization aimed at curtailing gun violence, has also opposed the bills, suggesting that they flout federal law around gun sales.

Because no one under 21 is allowed to legally purchase a firearm from a federally licensed gun dealer, Bonavia told an NBC Chicago affiliate, "this age group that they're talking about would likely need to be purchasing their gun from the gray market, from private sellers," adding: "Which means that there would be no background check conducted on those purchases."

All of the measures were passed in the Assembly with a voice vote, sending the package to the Wisconsin Senate. If the state Senate approves, the package will need to be signed by Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat who is likely to veto the measures. While the governor has not directly commented on the package, in the past he's pushed for gun control measures, such as universal background checks and red flag laws.

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By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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Concealed Carry Gop Gun Culture Guns Republicans Wisconsin