Banning guns in public buildings among options

By Jennifer Eisenbart

Staff writer

Wisconsin Act 35 – which regulates, or rather, allows the carrying of concealed weapons – is set to take effect Nov. 1.

The City of Burlington Common Council on Tuesday discussed the implications of the act and what to do with the municipal code as the new law goes into effect.

“It’s a combination of a whole bunch of statutory changes,” City Attorney John Bjelajac said.

Looking at Act 35 and the fact that people with the proper permit being able to carry a concealed weapon, Bjelajac is in the process of drafting a revision to the municipal code – a revision that could cover more than just guns.

That revision – plus numerous questions – turned into a 30-minute discussion at the Common Council meeting Tuesday evening.

The revision outlined the various weapons covered by the ordinance – guns, knives, etc. – and also would restrict concealed carry to certain areas. Weapons covered a lot of ground, as evidenced when Mayor Bob Miller added that crossbows needed to be added to the municipal code.

But the code could also cover things like toys and air rifles. Alderman Jeff Fischer asked about his son’s Airsoft gun, which he said gets used in his backyard. By the current law – before any changes would be made – those weapons are already prohibited.

Like many other communities, the council also looked at prohibiting carrying any kind of weapons – guns, crossbows or otherwise – into a city building. Excluded would be law enforcement officers and anyone allowed by the mayor or common council by a special exception.

One such exception would be a death threat against a staff member, and that staff member being allowed a weapon to protect themselves.

“We can only regulate weapons in buildings,” said Bjelajac. He said that does not include any city parks or other open areas, and private businesses would have to decide what to do for themselves.

He did point out that no matter what the council did, it was likely a no-win situation.

“It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” the city attorney said.

There were other questions raised. The city owns the grounds that Veterans Terrace is on, but the building is owned by the management group running it. Since the building isn’t the city’s, weapons cannot be banned there, according to Bjelajac – at least by the city.

Alderman Bob Prailes also wanted to know why municipalities could ban weapons in buildings, but not in open areas. Among the areas that could be affected could be not only parks, but the ChocolateFest grounds during the festival.

“So, we’re protecting ourselves, but not other people?” asked Prailes.

“It depends what you protect.” Bjelajac said.

Bjelajac also said concealed carry of a weapon could be governed by the code, but a state statute also exists that leaves open carry open to interpretation as to “criminal or malicious intent.” The city attorney conceded it was a can of worms the police department would be left to define – or not.

City of Burlington Police Chief Peter Nimmer said there were three big questions to address: the banning of Airsoft guns, bows and arrows and weapons in public buildings. Miller then cautioned against the council trying to cover every eventuality.

For example, the Airsoft guns could fall under the discretion of a police officer.

“There’s so many mock guns out there,” Miller said. “I think we kind of need to go with what we have here now … and go with it for a while.”

Former Mayor Claude Lois spoke, saying the biggest thing would be education. There were also questions about liability to private businesses or in public buildings if weapons are prohibited – and whether lawsuits could be the result.

Nimmer said he had already done a presentation to the Chamber of Commerce, but in discussing the matter, cautioned that businesses needed to make their own calls for legal advice in terms of legality and liability.

There was also a short amount of discussion on the consequences of carrying a weapon – and then using it under any number of circumstances.

“There’s a whole set of rules that need to be followed,” Miller said.