Dear fellow gun owner:
This is going to be a long email, so please be patient.
Over the past thirty or so years, anti-gun forces have had their best successes when they were able to divide gun owners.
Unfortunately, as we head into the fight for concealed carry, a group claiming to support gun rights is dividing the very gun owners we need on our side to win. That group is Wisconsin Gun Owners.
For example, WGO is saying that the NRA is trying to sneak fingerprinting requirements into the bill. That is not true. Neither Senator Zien, Representative Gunderson, the NRA, nor any others associated with getting this bill passed have any intention of accepting a fingerprinting provision in the bill. It will not happen.
WGO is claiming that the Personal Protection Act will create a list of gun owners at the Department of Justice. Again, a misleading statement. The only people who will be in the database of permit holders will be those who voluntarily apply for and receive permits.
In every shall-issue state in the country, the names of permit holders are kept on file at some level of government, whether at the county or state level. Without having the names on file, it would be impossible to know who is legal to carry and who is not.
Further, Senator Zien and Representative Gunderson have inserted strong language in the bill to keep that list from public view, and that provides for criminal penalties for anyone who misuses that list--including law enforcement officers.
The WGO has been saying that Wisconsin should have Vermont-style (no permit necessary) concealed carry.
We'd all like to see that, but it's not going to happen.
Consider this: even ultra-conservative pro-gun states such as Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and others require permits.
Only the delusional would think that Wisconsin can go from having a total prohibition on concealed carry for 135 years to Vermont-style carry. As one of only four states completely prohibiting concealed carry, Wisconsin is in no position to make that leap. WGO can stomp their feet and hold their breath until they turn blue, but it's not going to happen, at least not in their, yours, or my lifetime.
In politics, an "all-or-nothing" approach assures you're going to get one thing: nothing. And, make no mistake, this is a political issue.
WGO has told its supporters that we have a right under the Second Amendment, as well as under the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment to the Wisconsin state constitution, to carry concealed without a permit. On this point, the WGO is right.
Unfortunately, the courts do not agree. In the strongest challenge to the constitutionality of Wisconsin's prohibition on concealed carry--state vs. Munir Hamdan--the Wisconsin state supreme court issued a very narrow decision, saying that concealed carry was only legal in one's home or business. Only one justice out of the seven on the court wrote an opinion that the ban on concealed carry was entirely unconstitutional.
That was in 2003, when we had a 4:3 conservative majority on the court. With Governor Doyle having appointed Louis Butler to replace Justice Dianne Sykes, the balance in the court is now 4:3 on the liberal side.
In other words, anyone who's waiting for the court to give us Vermont-style carry will be waiting a long, long time.
WGO claims to be "Wisconsin's most-powerful gun rights lobbying organization." An interesting claim, because almost nobody has seen them at the state Capitol.
Representative Gunderson and Senator Zien have, though. Representative Gunderson has described to me how a WGO representative came into his office, screaming and shouting obscenities at him, and calling him the most vile names.
Yelling and swearing at a legislator is not an effective lobbying technique. By doing so, the WGO is now shut out of the legislative process. On top of that, Representative Gunderson and Senator Zien do not deserve such treatment.
Senator Zien and Representative Gunderson have been the driving force behind every pro-gun piece of legislation introduced in the last ten years, including the pre-emption bill that eliminated Madison's ban on handguns, and prevents cities from enacting gun control laws more strict than state law. Both Zien and Gunderson led the way for passage of the Range Protection Act, the Right to Hunt, Fish and Trap amendment, and the same Right to Keep and Bear Arms amendment that WGO now claims will get us Vermont-style carry.
I've seen the WGO at the Capitol only one time. That was on February 3, 2004 when the assembly was voting on an override of Governor Doyle's veto of the Personal Protection Act. WGO members were distributing flyers to PPA supporters, urging them to oppose the bill. That at the very time when we all needed to to present a united front.
On its website, WGO makes references to working with Gun Owners of America on gun legislation both statewide and at the federal level. In an email to me, Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said that while his group endorses the WGO, there is no affiliation between the two groups. Further, Mr. Pratt was unaware of what I told him was happening in Wisconsin.
Now let's turn to the subject of money.
According to the Wisconsin State Ethics Board, from January to June of this year, WGO reported lobbying expenses of $48,661.
$48,661 for what? They only reported nine hours of communicating with legislators.
Let's put that number into perspective. The Wisconsin Concealed Carry Association has been around for a bit over four years. During that time, our volunteers have distributed tens of thousands of pieces of literature, provided thousands and thousands of postcards for people to write their legislators, spent thousands of man-hours working the gun shows, paid for the tables at those shows, and more. Yet, during those 4+ years, we've only spent a fraction of what WGO reported to have spent in six months. And our volunteers are all over the Capitol, stopping in at every legislator's office to help get our bill passed. But, then again, our volunteers are just that: volunteers. Nobody gets paid a dime.
WGO also has a 501(c)4 tax-exempt status which allows them, among other things, to collect membership dues and pay board directors.
Again, lets use the WCCA as a point of contrast. We don't have dues for our group. Anyone can become a "member." All they have to do is volunteer. And, again, nobody gets paid a dime for their efforts. What they get is the satisfaction of knowing that they're helping to make Wisconsin the 38th shall-issue state.
This is America. We have a capitalist system. I have no problem with somebody hustling to make a buck. I do get ticked off, though, when someone does so by just sitting on the sidelines and throwing rocks at those who are doing the real work.
On their website, WGO makes a veiled reference to our political action committee, the WCCM. They say, "While some gun organizations seem to do nothing but pester gun owners for donations — only to turn around and give money and political cover to politicians who stab them in the back on the gun issue."
That's right. We spend a lot of time raising money to contribute to candidates who support concealed carry. And every dime we raise goes to such candidates. We've helped elect many senators and representatives. And none of them are stabbing anyone in the back on gun issues.
That's how the political process works: if you want to have a legislator vote for your cause, you help elect a legislator who supports that cause.
What does WGO do to affect the political process? They throw rocks.
On Tuesday, we head into battle against one of the most anti-gun governors in the country, as we try to garner the votes to override his promised veto. It's going to be a tough fight.
It's very possible that we will win. But we won't win with WGO trying to undermine the process.
The next time you receive a communication from WGO, ask yourself if their stated goals are achievable. The next time you receive a request from them for membership dues, ask yourself what your dollars are being used for. More importantly, ask yourself if you're willing to go the rest of your life not being able to legally carry a weapon with which to defend yourself.
Thank you for your patience in reading this email.
P.S. If you haven't already both emailed and called your state senator to ask that he or she vote for the Personal Protection Act, which is being voted on in the Senate on Tuesday, please do so. You can find your senator's email address and phone number by going to http://22.214.171.124/waml/ and entering your address.