Thursday, June 26, 2008

Madison handgun laws

Inspired by today's ruling by the Supreme Court overturning the handgun ban in Washington D.C., and by all the talk about how much litigation will come of it, I decided to find out what Madison's current gun laws are, especially in regards to handguns.

I know, riveting research.

As seems to be the case with gun laws nationwide, what I've found so far is a complicated and confusing patchwork of laws and ordinances, and no clear answer. Of course, I'm no legal scholar, so if anyone with some knowledge of this wants to chime in and clarify things for me, it would be much appreciated.

According to today's decision, an outright ban on the sale and ownership of handguns was deemed unconstitutional. However, Justice Scalia, in his majority opinion, did note that,
“It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” Justice Scalia wrote.

The ruling does not mean, for instance, that laws against carrying concealed weapons are to be swept aside. Furthermore, Justice Scalia wrote, “The court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

So this issue is far from being resolved. One could reasonably assume, however, that any other city or state with an outright ban on handguns will have to do away with such laws.

But what is the law in Madison? A friend of mine keyed me in to the fact that Madison has an outright ban on the sale of handguns within city limits, and that the City Council also passed an ordinance banning their possession.
Section 25.01(11a): It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, association, or corporation to sell, give away, trade, or transfer any handgun to any other person, firm, association, or corporation within the corporate boundaries of the City of Madison.
Wisconsin state law, however, has something different to say:
Except as provided in subs. (3) and (4), no political subdivision may enact an ordinance or adopt a resolution that regulates the sale, purchase, purchase delay, transfer, ownership, use, keeping, possession, bearing, transportation, licensing, permitting, registration or taxation of any firearm or part of a firearm, including ammunition and reloader components, unless the ordinance or resolution is the same as or similar to, and no more stringent than, a state statute.
So is Madison's current ordinance already trumped by state law, and we're just kind of ignoring it? Or is Madison's law somehow "similar to state statute"?

While I'm puzzling all of this, I can't help but ponder the greater fact that a large chunk of the problem with gun laws in the United States is that they are so fragmented and confusing. I'm a strong proponent of good regulation: background checks, wait periods, bans on assault and other insane-o weapons, proper training, and that sort of thing. In theory, a lot of that already exists--the trouble seems to be mostly in how we do or do not enforce them. That's where the most work remains to be done.

In the meantime, I don't necessarily think that SCOTUS' decision was wrong (bad, maybe, but not wrong). The same friend I mentioned earlier made the argument that the decision reflected judicial activism on the majority's part, but noted that that didn't necessarily equate wrong or bad. It was an intriguing idea--in the end, isn't the point of having learned scholars sitting in judgment to interpret the law as it applies to ever-changing, modern circumstances? And isn't that exactly what alleged "strict constructionist" Scalia and co. just did?

After all, if we went with the original meaning of the amendment, it's like that 1) individual's would have the right to own guns, but 2) the government would then have the right to inspect those weapons at-will, to make sure they were being properly maintained and "well-regulated," should they ever need to call up the owner for active duty in a militia. Something tells me neither side of the debate would much enjoy that.


John A said...

I'm a big fan of judicial activism, you just usually don't see it swinging to the right... :)

You're spot on with the enforcement issue. For better or worse, people are going to own handguns. If nothing else, this probably makes it easier for the "right" people to get handguns too, even if it also results in more horrible-90210-esque-very-special-episode in-home shooting accidents as well.

Banning guns is a bit like prohibition. Except the opponents can shoot you. Or something. Sorry, I don't know where I'm going with that.

As a non-gun owner, my overall reaction is "meh."

Palmer said...

I believe state law would trump the laws of a municipality. However, municipalities can and do regulate activities not specified by state law.

"Wisconsin and approximately 40 other states preempt local authority to regulate firearms. 1995 Wisconsin Act 72 prohibited local ordinances that would exceed state regulation of the sale, use, possession, carrying, transportation, licensing, registration, or taxation of firearms
[s. 66.092]. Ordinances that are no more stringent than state law are permitted. For example, municipalities may restrict the discharge of firearms within municipal boundaries.
Act 72 invalidated existing local controls on the purchase, possession, and use of handguns
in municipalities around the state, including ordinances in Eau Claire, Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, Racine, Sheboygan, Stevens Point, Superior, and Wausau."

Now, this info is dated 2000 so things may have changed since then.

But as I said in my post, with SCOTUS affirming the self-defense interpretation and the illegality of mandatory trigger locks, it would seem that laws forbidding the discharge of a firearm would be in trouble.

Palmer said...

With regards to john a's comment:

I am a gun owner, both handgun and rifle, and I think this was a poor decision. I doubt that we're going to see a huge increase in deaths by legal handguns ostensibly retained for self-defense.

My main concern is what this ruling shows about the SCOTUS itself, particular the conservative branch that always whines about judicial activism.

Emily said...

JOHN - It's just a big mess, is what it is. Ideally, we need a new amendment, but I know that's about as likely to happen as curing Ted Haggard of his gayness.

PALMER - Thanks for the link. I'm still a little confused, and probably the best way to figure out what's actually being enforced is for me to call up someone downtown and ask. I'll be curious to see how the SCOTUS decision effects Wisconsin/Madison law, though.

Chris said...

I'm a non-gun owner though I have to say shooting stuff is pretty fun.

I really don't want the responsibility of owning a gun, especially a handgun.

I see my kids get into every damn thing in the house. I try to make sure I've put away the super glue, ammonia, acetone, etc. but once in a while, there's a kid carrying something somewhat dangerous around.

I can't imagine the mental responsibility it would take to maintain gun security in my home. Especially if I'm carrying one every day. Good lord. I would rather not have one than have to add this to my list of crap to remember.

Secondarily, now imagine all the people's houses your kids go to and relying on their vigilance on gun security. That's a good reason in itself to maintain a ban.

Anonymous said...

"I shouldn't be allowed to have guns in case your kids come over" is a pretty weak basis for an law. I counter your proposal with "If you won't take responsibility for your children, they should be taken away from you."

Anonymous said...

Ah yes that wonderful Flandersesque evangelical reasoning..."What about the children? Won't someone think about the children?"

Emily said...

I certainly think it's fair for a parent to be concerned about the environment of a home their child might visit from time to time. It certainly doesn't make a good, main legal reasoning for stricter gun control, but I don't think you can dismiss the concern outright.

michael donnelly said...

I'm pretty sure Grandpa's Gun Shop on Willy St sells handguns.

Andrew said...

Madison no longer has a handgun-sale ban in effect. It was repealed 20 December 2007 by ORD-07-00193.

"Sec. 25.01(11), MGO, purports to ban the purchase and sale of handguns and handgun ammunition within the City. The City no longer has the authority to adopt such an ordinance, pursuant to Wis. Stat. sec. 66.0409. The subsection is repealed by this ordinance"

The Lost Albatross