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Germantown opts to allow concealed carry in public buildings

Falls still exploring its options

Sept. 20, 2011

Germantown took a bold step in shaping its concealed carry ordinance to comply with state law. Following a contentious debate, the Village Board approved an ordinance that will allow concealed carry in public buildings like Village Hall.

"When this first came up we thought this would be more or less a no-brainer," explained Village Manager David Schornack. "In my view, I can see the benefit for having no guns in Village Hall."

But village trustees saw things differently. Trustee Daniel Wing gave a passionate speech about what he called "irrational fear" over concealed carry. Wing cited a study by John Lott and then the Stanford Law Review that found that areas with concealed carry may actually be less dangerous than those banning it.

Furthermore, Wing noted that many businesses, including Walmart, have for years allowed concealed carry in their stores.

"It didn't turn into the wild west. There isn't shoot-outs in the toy isle at Walmart," Wing quipped.

Trustee Terri Kaminski took Wing's assertion one step further saying she would "feel safer if I knew Dan was packing in this room."

Village Clerk Elizabeth Knaack fervently supported a plan to ban concealed carry from places like Village Hall, saying people who come into the village are often angry or dissatisfied with the village.

Trustee David Baum dismissed the concern an unfounded.

"Last year you could strap a six-shooter to your hip and walk into Village Hall. You could open carry," he said, insisting the danger wouldn't be heightened by concealed weapons.

The village's ordinance will put in place the ability for Germantown police to respond to violators of concealed carry bans by businesses. The law gives the freedom to private businesses to post signs prohibiting concealed carry. Chief Peter Hoell asked for discretion to respond to businesses where people are not in compliance with those rules and ticket offenders.

Taking different approach

Menomonee Falls Police Chief Anna Ruzinski said her office has been offering input to the village on how a new ordinance would look. Current laws are based on previous state laws banning concealed weapons.

"Old ordinances were based on an adoption of the state statute in regards to carrying a concealed weapon and now that the state law is changing, certainly we have to look at village ordinances and adjust them accordingly," Ruzinski said.

Intertwined in this process is some tricky legal maneuvering that may be required under any new law. Municipalities will be forced to come into compliance with the state law allowing concealed weapons in public, which goes into effect Nov. 1.

Liability in question

However, there is an odd twist: If the village bans concealed weapons at the library, for instance, and signs are posted noting the ban, the village could be liable if someone carrying such a weapon were to commit a crime.

On the other hand, if the village were to not take such action, it may remain insulated against liability in these extreme cases. While that may seem counter-intuitive, it's a reality many local governments, including Menomonee Falls, have checked into.

Village Manager Mark Fitzgerald said it's something that has yet to be determined, but the library could act under what's called administrative implementation without having board approval, much like a private business would.

This would add another twist since the library is a village entity. Ruzinski said the library staff likely intends to put up these signs, banning concealed weapons, but hasn't yet come up with a system for dealing with potential rule-breakers.

Village Hall doesn't need to have a new ordinance written for protection since it is attached to the police station. According to Ruzinski, that counts under the state law which says weapons cannot be brought into a police station.

Since the library is technically a separate building, it does not fall under the same rules.

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