Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where are Wisconsin's concealed carry loopholes?

On November 1st Wisconsin's new concealed carry law will go into effect. I am wondering how many loopholes we will later find in that law? How many will public officials unfortunately notice only after problems arise? Will they get past their Dirty Harry complex long enough to correct mistakes? There are at least a few areas where we should probably be looking for loopholes after November 1st.

When the Wisconsin Attorney General's office released the rules related to the new concealed carry law, it listed a fee that would be charged to cover a background check. That fee was listed as being $13, which tells me that they plan on using their own Crime Information Bureau (CIB) database to do that check. That database is a great tool for identifying any adult arrests and resulting court actions in Wisconsin. However it only gives you a record for adult arrests in Wisconsin. What if a person applies for a concealed carry permit and they have a record in another state that might otherwise disqualify them? How will the Department of Justice know if they only use a Wisconsin database to do the background check?

Recently we also learned that Wisconsin will honor concealed carry permits from at least 25 other states. This is another area where we should watch for loophole related problems down the road. Essentially we are owning the process in all of those 25 states including every lax rule. It will take time to discover the various loopholes that will open as a result of honoring permits from those 25 states.

Wisconsin is set to honor permits from Utah for example. Even the relatively gun happy state of Nevada decided to stop honoring Utah's concealed carry permits because of the lax rules. Some have actually described Utah's concealed carry law as being a mail order approach that has attracted applicants from all over the country. Wisconsin's choice to honor their permits forces us to also honor all of their loopholes and any problems that they might bring.

Last week Milwaukee's Shepherd Express ran a story about the new concealed carry law. In that story they reported several concerns that Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn had concerning it. He said that thousands of career criminals who have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors would qualify for a concealed carry permit because they are not convicted felons. They can carry a hidden handgun even though they are a literal menace to public safety. Flynn also said that almost half of those convicted of homicides in 2011 would have been eligible for concealed weapons permits because they had not been convicted of a felony prior to committing murder. For the same reason he further said that about 75% of convicted robbers could get a permit at the time of their crime.

The bottom line here is that Wisconsin legislators were in such a frenzy to pass concealed carry legislation that they failed to fully address these and other concerns. Unfortunately they were more concerned with pleasing a political base than they were concerned with carefully forming sound public policy. The various loopholes in Wisconsin's new concealed carry law will eventually become clear. Hopefully that clarity will not come at too great of a cost and hopefully our legislators will have the courage to make the necessary changes.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bad Actors, Lax Gun Laws and Loopholes

We are unfortunately well aware of the lobbying efforts of groups like the National Rifle Association. They have a clear history of lobbying for some of the most extreme policies related to guns. Part of their legislative agenda includes a free pass repeatedly given to even the most problematic gun dealers. There probably isn’t a better local example of this than Badger Guns located in Milwaukee County.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that the current owner of Badger Guns is planning on surrendering his license. The owner has said that he is only giving up the license because he lost a yearlong fight with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to renew it. This most recent fight with authorities is no surprise because Badger Guns and its predecessor Badger Outdoors have been the top sellers of crime guns for the past decade. In 2005 Badger Outdoors was actually listed as being the top seller of crime guns in the nation.

The highest profile crimes committed with guns purchased from Badger involved six Milwaukee police officers being wounded in less than a two year span. Badger Guns currently faces a civil lawsuit from 4 of the police officers that were severely wounded by guns sold at their store.

The current violations that have encumbered Badger Guns’ license are only the most recent in what seems to be an endless cycle. That cycle is clearly perpetuated by lax gun laws. For example, in 2006 when then-Badger Outdoors ran in to similar problems, the previous owner sold the business to his son who changed the name to Badger Guns. Even though the father and former owner of the business still worked at the store, the store was given an entirely clean slate. Use of that loophole essentially erased all of the previous violations. There is speculation that a similar maneuver could be in the works again.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has done an excellent job of highlighting these kinds of loopholes and other unnecessary problems faced by law enforcement. All-too-often law enforcement agencies like the ATF are largely powerless because their ability to actually regulate problematic gun dealers has been greatly crippled by Congress.

The current owner of Badger Guns can take any remaining guns, transfer them to his “personal collection” and sell them at gun shows without even doing a background check. He is already saying that although he is giving up his license that he will still continue to work at the store. He says that he will run the shooting range at the store which has been used in the past by felons. He will also sell ammunition and accessories which don’t require a federal license.

No wonder Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn commented on the owner’s getting out of the gun-selling business by saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” He knows more than anyone about the long history of violations and the selling of crime guns from that store, including those that were used against his officers. Unfortunately the lax gun laws and various loopholes created by the gun industry and their rubber stamp legislators serve only to perpetuate such problems.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Avoid Uninformed Knee-Jerk Decisions

On Sunday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story about the venture capital legislation that was passed in Wisconsin in 1999. The story focuses on the one company that appeared to game the system and exploit the loopholes left by legislators and a governor that didn’t fully understand how to implement a venture capital (VC)program. In fact some of the same legislators involved in 1999 currently have an influence on the new venture capital legislation.

Sunday’s story focuses exclusively on one bad actor that took advantage of legislator’s lack of understanding in 1999. What concerns me is that legislators today seem to be positioning themselves to make even worse mistakes. Many of them seem to believe that by simply picking a different VC program that they will magically avoid such complications, bad actors and other problems. As a result some seem to be fast tracking what is known as a “fund of funds” based program. But there are serious questions that need to be asked about this venture capital approach and we shouldn’t rush into this or any specific program without having a full understanding of its risks and history.

Over the last few months I have repeatedly focused on the venture capital program in Oklahoma. That state has had a “fund of funds” program since the 1980’s. In fact “fund of funds” programs are sometimes referred to as the “Oklahoma Program”. What I learned about Oklahoma’s venture capital program was certainly alarming and legislators should certainly take note and avoid their mistakes.

Here are a few of the alarming details that jumped out at me:

Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story also highlights the fees involved in the previous VC program in Wisconsin. But it didn’t mention that all venture capital funds collect a 2.0-2.5% (even higher in Silicon Valley) management fee per year and that is not exclusive to just one specific kind of VC program. If legislators have an aversion to such fees, I certainly hope that they fully examine the subject. I especially hope that those who are trying to fast track the “fund of funds” approach actually check the level of fees often involved in that kind of program. They can end up being double the cost of fees in other programs. In fact in many “fund of funds” programs the fund managers end up collecting just as much in fees as the underlying VC firms that are actually doing the work.

As I have said in previous blog postings on this subject, I am not particularly dogmatic about the exact venture capital program that Wisconsin chooses. But I am concerned that some legislators don’t appear to have all of the information and yet they seem ready to rubber stamp one specific approach. Right now it appears that they are planning to fast track a “fund of funds” program without fully doing their due diligence. Legislators need to slow down, fully understand the details and the possible motives of those trying to influence them. They also must study what has happened in states like Oklahoma so that we don’t make the same costly mistakes. Venture capital policy is a complicated issue and what we certainly don’t need right now are uninformed knee-jerk decisions.

Friday, October 07, 2011

NRA Lobbying for the Extreme

Finally after many years of Wisconsin rejecting their radical agenda, groups like the National Rifle Association finally got what they've wanted in Wisconsin. The new concealed carry law will go into effect on November 1st. But as is typical for people operating from such extremes, the new law apparently doesn't go far enough for the NRA. Earlier this week we learned that the NRA is now complaining because they don't like how Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is interpreting the new concealed carry law.

The main problem that the NRA has with the Wisconsin AG is that he apparently plans to require at least 4 hours of training. According to various polls, the majority of Wisconsinites don't even support the idea of people walking freely around carrying hidden handguns. One can imagine that those same people would probably support such a common sense measure that at least requires some sort of training. But that would be the reasonable approach and based on the NRA's lobbying efforts in Wisconsin over the last few legislative sessions, they have hardly been the voice of reason.

For example, here are some of their extreme positions as listed in Wisconsin's Eye on Lobbying database:

  • Not only have they been pushing extreme versions of concealed carry for years but they have also promoted and are currently lobbying for so-called "Castle Doctrine" legislation. Feeding an apparent Dirty Harry obsession, this legislation would allow people to become judge, jury, and executioner if an intruder enters their home or business. It wouldn't matter if the intruder was unarmed and it wouldn't matter if they were not an actual physical threat. You can still shoot to kill with few questions asked afterward. The latest version of this legislation continues to expand this license-to-kill. Apparently it now even covers someone "breaking into" your driveway. Recent reports also show that this free pass could continue expanding even further to adjoining sidewalks, business parking lots and farmland.
  • They have repeatedly lobbied against legislation that gives law enforcement more investigative tools, such as requiring microstamping. This opposition continues with a bill in the current legislative session. Mircostamping is a technology that imprints identifying information on bullet cartridges.
  • They oppose a current bipartisan bill that would treat a criminal the same if they use an actual firearm or a "facsimile firearm" during the commission of a crime. A "facsimile firearm" includes things like a replica, toy, starter pistol or anything else that could be reasonably perceived as being a real firearm.
  • They opposed legislation to prohibit a person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to possess a fire arm. Under the legislation, a person that violated that prohibition would be guilty of a felony and subject to a fine of up to $25,000 or up to 10 years in prison or both. This bill sought to create both a new state crime and a revised penalty for an existing crime.
  • The NRA opposed legislation that sought to extend the definition of domestic abuse to include harm or the threat of harm to animals that are owned by the petitioner of a domestic abuse restraining order.
  • They opposed legislation that required a record search before a handgun was transferred between two individuals (when a firearms dealer was not involved). The legislation only applied to the transfer of firearms in Milwaukee County.
  • Opposed bipartisan legislation that increased the penalty for discharging a firearm near a public park, square or an enclosure owned or controlled by a municipality. The legislation sought to increase the fine from up to $25 to up to $1,000. It also sought to increase the possible jail time from 60 days to 90 days.
  • The NRA supported legislation that sought to prohibit officials from exercising certain emergency powers during "emergencies resulting from an enemy action or natural or man-made disaster." This legislation specifically sought to limit officials abilities to restrict the possession, transfer, sale, transport, storage, display or use of firearms or ammunition during an emergency.
Given the extremists that lead the NRA, it shouldn't be a surprise that they would also lobby for the extreme in Wisconsin and in other state legislatures all across the country. What should be a surprise is how all-too-often obedient legislators and other officials dutifully bow to their extreme pressure.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.