University professors and police explain concealed weapons on a larger political scale

Gun rights and gun control forum shows history and culture of the right

More stories from Brian Sheridan

Armed with political, historical and legal knowledge, a group of UW-Eau Claire professors and university police held a forum Monday in Schneider Hall on the concealed gun carry act in the Wisconsin Legislature.

The forum sought to cover the gun carry act in as many different angles as possible, showing how the right to bear arms has evolved, how the matter has been approached in the past on both the state and federal level, and the safety and responsibility involved with carrying a weapon.

Senior lecturer of history Oscar Chamberlain opened the discussion by sharing the history of the right to bear arms and how around the time of the American Revolution, the amendment began to allow individuals to have weapons outside of militia duty.

In more recent decades, Chamberlain said variations of the line “For defence of themselves and the state,” in regards to the right to bear arms, started to appear in state constitutions, and has been evolving to provide more weapon rights to the individual. The right to carry arms in Wisconsin appeared in 1998.

“The efforts of the gun rights movement, the past 20 years or so, has been to make the right to bear arms much stronger outside the home or business,” Chamberlain said. “These efforts include the proposed law that motivated the presentation today.”

Chamberlain said as weapons become more deadly, questions about whether these should be allowed in public areas become more intense and provoke more debates on it.

Political science assistant professor Eric Kasper spoke about how the debate on how the constitution is written can really affect the “tenor” of the debate. He said political groups will see the second amendment and will form a “rallying cry” around it.

“We shouldn’t just protect it as a constitutional right,” Kasper said. “We should expand upon it, do something more with it, protect it more is an argument used in debate.”

In District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court said the second amendment gives individuals the right to bear arms. Kasper said this constrains what policy choices are and may move those policy debates in a new direction.

Political science professor Rodd Freitag talked about the idea of “scope of conflict” and how, when states get into policy fights, they don’t get a lot of attention. He said in these circumstances, it’s “the very well organized, intense interest groups that tend to win.”

This is why, Freitag said, gun lobbyists can be very powerful. That, also in combination with having offensive political strategies.

One example of that strategy, he said, is pushing the notion that the best response to gun violence is more guns. Freitag said this response resonates with American culture and it is consistent with our “individual political culture.”

“Rather than have a communal response, rather than have society step up to limit civil liberties,” Freitag said, “we say what we want to do is expand civil liberties and feeds into the notion that we can protect ourselves better not through the community and the policing, but rather through the individual response to violence.”

However, Freitag said when it comes to gun control groups, there are all kinds of folks who, regarding public opinion, might align themselves with the gun control groups, but they just don’t feel it as strongly.

Kasper said gun control supporters will still support a candidate who does not support gun control because they care about other issues more.

Senior political science student Audrey Mulliner said if the bill were to pass, Eau Claire students would be hesitant at first but overall thinks the bill would be okay. She said she understands where the legislators are coming from, but thinks there is another way to approach the matter.

“It does make you want to be more safe,” Mulliner said. “But at the same time, I think there is a sense of being rushed into action rather than studying to see how actually effective this sort of stuff would actually be.”

Freitag said American society will eventually reach a point where a majority will be in favor of restrictions, but currently the law is set up to make it easier to protect gun rights.

“It’s going to take a while,” Freitag said. “It’s not something that’s around the corner and we’re certainly not moving in that direction right now.”

Panelists of the forum said it’s always a good idea to call and write to Wisconsin senators and assembly members to let them know how Wisconsin citizens feel about the bill and that they’re willing to vote on the issue.