Wisconsin’s Concealed Carry Law: What Does It Mean to Me?

November 8, 2011

The new Concealed Carry Law became effective on November 1, 2011. In order to fully understand the implications of this new legislation, the prior and current laws regarding concealed carry need to be examined.

Prior Law:

  • Any person, except a peace officer, who goes armed with a concealed and dangerous weapon was guilty of a Class A Misdemeanor.
  • It was a criminal offense to carry a firearm in a public building and carrying a handgun where alcoholic beverages were sold and consumed.

Current Law: Definitions Are Important:

  • New restrictions on a person’s ability to “carry” a firearm. “Carry” means to “go armed with” and the courts have construed this as meaning that the firearm is on the individual’s person or within reach and the individual is aware of its presence. (Note: unloaded and encased firearms are not “go armed with.”)
  • Focus on “concealed” firearms or weapons. “Concealed” means hidden from ordinary view.
  • Deals with “weapons.” Weapons mean a handgun, electric weapon, knife other than a switchblade knife, or a billy club. Does not include firearms other than a handgun (e.g., shot gun, rifle).
  • “Handgun” – any weapons intended to be fired while held in one hand and uses the energy of an explosive to expel a projectile. Does not include machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns.

The general changes to our concealed carry law include the following:

  • Permits placing, processing, or transporting a loaded and unencased handgun in a vehicle.
  • Permits loading a handgun in a vehicle.
  • Permits operating an all-terrain vehicle with a loaded and unencased handgun.
  • Permits placing, possession, or transporting a loaded handgun in or on a motorboat with the motor running.
  • Permits placing, possessing, or transporting a loaded and unencased handgun in or on a noncommercial aircraft.

There are also more specific changes and questions that have resulted from the new concealed carry law, which I have listed below.

1. Does the law allow a person to carry a firearm in the person’s own home or the person’s place of business?
Yes, the law authorizes a person to carry a concealed weapon in his or her own dwelling or place of business or on land that he or she owns, leases, or legally occupies, without regard to whether the person is a concealed carry licensee.

2. Does the law place any restrictions on the open carry of firearms?
The law specifies that it should not be interpreted to limit an individual’s right to openly carry a firearm, other than the specific limits included in the law. For instance, the law specifies a list of places where a licensee may not carry a concealed firearm or openly carry a firearm, including certain public buildings.

3. Can a person be prevented from carrying a firearm on private or public property?
Yes, with some limitations. The law creates a list of provisions under trespass law under which a person or entity that owns or occupies property, the state or local governmental units, and organizers of special events may restrict access to certain property by people who are carrying firearms. Where a sign is required to notify people of such a restriction, the sign must be at least 5” X 7” and must state the restriction. Signs must be placed in a prominent place near all of the entrances to the part of the building to which the restriction applies or near all probable access points to the grounds or land to which the restriction applies, as applicable, where any individual entering the building, grounds, or land can be reasonably expected to see the sign. These new trespass provisions apply to both licensees and people who are not licensed and to concealed and open carry, and most of these provisions do not apply to parts of buildings, grounds, or land that are used for parking if the firearm is in a vehicle driven or parked in the parking areas.

The following questions relate to these trespass provisions:

4. Can the owner of a single-family residence restrict access to his or her property by people carrying firearms?
Yes. Such a restriction may apply to the residence and the rest of the parcel of land. The law does not specify the method that the owner must use to notify people of the restriction.

5. Can a person who leases or owns a unit in a multi-family residence restrict access to the multi-family residence by people carrying firearms?
Yes, but the person may only place such a restriction on the person’s own residential unit. The Act does not specify the method that must be used to notify people of the restriction.

6. Can a person in control of the common areas in and the grounds of a multi-family residence restrict access to the property by people carrying firearms?
Yes, but the person may only place such a restriction on the common areas and grounds, and that restriction would not apply to people who lease or own a residential unit in the residence. This type of restriction requires posting of signs.

7. Can organizers of special events like Summerfest restrict access to the special event grounds by people carrying firearms?
Yes. “Special event” is defined by the law to mean “an event that is open to the public, is for a duration of not more than 3 weeks, and either has designated entrances to and from the event that are locked when the event is closed or requires an admission.” Signs must be posted to notify people of the prohibition.

8. Can the person in control of other nonresidential property prohibit the carrying of firearms on these properties?
The person in control of a nonresidential building, grounds of a nonresidential building, or other land not listed above (“nonresidential property”) may prohibit a person from entering or remaining on the nonresidential property while carrying a firearm. The posting of signs is required to inform people of such a prohibition.

Concealed Carry Licenses

The law creates a system by which a person may apply for a license to carry a concealed weapon. The law specifies that a licensee may carry a concealed weapon anywhere in this state except as prohibited under the law.

The following questions and answers relate to firearms carrying and possession by a concealed carry licensee:

1. If I am a licensee, in what specific places am I expressly prohibited from carrying a firearm?
The law generally prohibits a licensee from knowingly carrying any type of firearm, whether concealed or openly carried, in police stations and other types of law enforcement offices, correctional buildings, portions of buildings that are courthouses, municipal courtrooms when court is in session, beyond the security checkpoint in an airport, and other specified locations. These prohibitions do not apply to firearms in vehicles driven or parked in a parking facility in one of these prohibited locations and exceptions apply to the courthouse prohibition for certain people including judges and prosecutors.

Under the law, a licensee is also generally prohibited from intentionally carrying a handgun on any premises where alcoholic beverages may be sold if the licensee is consuming alcohol on the premises.

2. If I am a licensee, can my employer prohibit me from carrying a concealed weapon in the course of my employment? 
Yes. The law authorizes employers to prohibit a licensee who it employs from carrying a concealed weapon or a particular type of concealed weapon in the court of the licensee’s employment, but such a prohibition does not apply to the employee’s personal vehicle, even if that vehicle is used in the course of employment.

3. Does the law allow me to carry a firearm within a school zone if I am a licensee?
Under current law and subject to a number of exceptions, a person is prohibited from knowingly possessing a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone. A school zone is defined as in or on the grounds of a school or within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a school. The new law exempts licensees from the prohibition against the possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a school. The general prohibition against carrying a firearm on school grounds applies to licensees unless they meet one of the current exceptions to that prohibition.

4. May I carry a concealed rifle or shotgun if I am a licensee?
No. The law allows a person to carry concealed “weapons” which only includes firearms that are handguns, as defined above. Rifles and shotguns would remain subject to the general prohibition against carrying concealed and dangerous weapons.

5. What are the general restrictions on whether I may carry a concealed firearm in this state if I am not a licensee?
The law expressly authorizes a person to carry a concealed handgun in his or her own dwelling or place of business or on land that he or she owns, leases, or legally occupies, without regard to whether the person has obtained a concealed carry license. Other than that, a person who does not obtain a concealed carry license is generally prohibited from carrying a concealed firearm in this state.

6. In what specific places am I expressly prohibited from carrying a firearm if I am not a licensee?
Under current law, a person is generally prohibited from carrying a firearm in a building owned or leased by the state or any political subdivision of the state. A person is also generally prohibited from intentionally carrying a handgun where alcoholic beverages may be purchased and consumed on the premises. These prohibitions apply to both concealed carry and open carry and remain the same for nonlicensees under the law.

7. I am not a licensee, may a person prevent me from carrying a firearm on his or her property?
Yes. Under current law, it is illegal to enter or remain on any land of another after being notified by the owner or occupant not to enter or remain on the premises. The new law does not change this authority with respect to people who are not licensees. Also, the trespass provisions created under the law specify additional means by which a person may prevent licensees and nonlicensees from carrying firearms on certain property.

8. Does the Act allow me to carry on school grounds or within a school zone if I am not a licensee?
No. Under current law and subject to a number of exceptions, a person is prohibited from knowingly possessing a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone. The new law reduces the state penalty for possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a school but does not eliminate the prohibition for people who are not licensees.

9. Does the law allow me to place, possess, or transport a loaded, unencased handgun in a vehicle?
The law does allow the placement, possession, and transportation of handguns in a number of different types of vehicles, regardless of whether a person is a licensee. However, if a person is not a licensee, the handgun cannot be concealed in the vehicle.

For more information about "Wisconsin’s Concealed Carry Law: What Does It Mean to Me?," contact Timothy D. Fenner at tfenner@axley.com or 608.283.6733.