Dan Linssen column: Concealed carry gun legislation helps protect us

By Dan Linssen • November 15, 2010

As Wisconsin transitions to a Republican-controlled state government, many changes will occur — some large, some small, some beneficial, some not. One change we likely will see is passage of concealed carry and "castle doctrine" legislation.

Concealed carry, as the name implies, allows permit holders to carry a concealed weapon for self-protection. Wisconsin and Illinois are the only two states without a concealed carry permit process.

Concealed carry is certainly loaded with emotion. For many, the image of walking down the street knowing that some other person may be "packing" is highly unnerving. In the wrong hands, guns are a terrible weapon of destruction. Watching news accounts of shootings like those at Virginia Tech, or even a local burglary or domestic violence homicide, is pretty gruesome stuff. So it is not surprising that many would seek to ban guns wherever possible. And, there are well-organized movements, backed with abundant funding, actively promoting the notion that guns are the root cause of America's violence.

Reality, however, is quite contrary. Experience in the 48 states with concealed carry legislation repeatedly demonstrates that violent crime rates decline in areas where citizens are allowed to arm themselves defensively. Intuitively, it makes sense that criminals (who possess guns illegally) are more likely to operate with impunity when they know their victims are defenseless, and more hesitant when their own safety is at risk. Much data supports this notion. One U.S. Justice Department study found that 40 percent of felons at some point had refrained from committing a crime, fearing their victim was armed.

Many fear that a wild-west atmosphere will emerge, and that those legally carrying guns will be crazed cowboys pulling their weapons over every traffic altercation, barroom spat or personal insult. Once again, however, the reality is very different. Florida, which has issued more carry permits than any other state, has had to revoke only one one-hundredth of 1 percent of all permits due to gun crimes by permit holders.

The other component of defensive legislation, so-called "castle doctrine," establishes the presumption that a criminal who forcibly enters your home or occupied vehicle intends to cause bodily harm, so the occupant may use force (including guns) against the intruder. It removes the "duty to retreat" or the burden of determining specific intent when under attack from an intruder. Without this legislation, criminals or their families often end up suing the person who used a weapon in self-defense. About half of all states have "castle doctrine" legislation.

We all want to believe our world is a good and safe place, and normally it is. But it also can be a vicious and dangerous place. Every day too many people are unlucky victims of a violent attack. An expectation that laws and police enforcement shield us from this risk is simply naive.

Recently, the Petit family murder trial in Connecticut has illustrated the agony of being caught defenseless. Had the family all been trained in firearms handling with access to defensive weapons, would the outcome have been different? No one can say. But the odds in their favor would definitely have improved.

Our focus as a society needs to remain on eliminating the causes of violent behavior. Only by snuffing out the reasons people commit violent acts will we create a safer world.

In the meantime, assuming Wisconsin joins the rest of the nation and passes defensive weapons legislation, hopefully we will all recognize that the problem is not firearms, but who possesses them. Gun bans do not stop criminals from getting guns. Smart defensive legislation gives the rest of us a reasonable deterrent.

--Yeah, What he said.

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