City seeks open gun restrictions

Constitutionally strong ordinance to be drafted

May 12, 2009

St. Francis officials will urge Gov. Jim Doyle and state legislators to limit the open carry of firearms.

A resolution to that effect was made by the Common Council after Alderman Ted Jarosh voiced concern that the city's current ordinance - which specifies that a firearm must be encased and unloaded - is unconstitutional based on state law, which is less restrictive.

"We can't create an ordinance that says people cannot walk into a bank with a firearm," Jarosh said. "The only thing that we can do is to require somebody to get a permit to carry a gun in a city park."

Unconstitutional law

City Attorney Michele Ford was directed to research the matter and draft an ordinance that will pass constitutional muster.

Jarosh said people should have the right to carry weapons for protection, but "there is a line you should not cross" to protect the peace of others.

State law allows people to openly carry guns with some exceptions, such as in government buildings, school zones, vehicles and places where alcohol is consumed.

Right now, the city's ordinance states that civilians cannot possess a gun "unless it is unloaded and knocked down and enclosed in a carry case."

Police Chief Brian Kaebisch said a business can legally post a sign banning firearms without violating civilians' right to bear arms. Armed people who enter businesses that prohibit firearms could be subject to trespassing charges, he said.

Legal but dangerous

Mayor Al Richards said people can legally purchase an assault rife and walk 1,000 feet from a high school.

In that type of situation, Kaebisch said, officers would respond and briefly detain the individual for reasonable suspicion and evaluate if the person's intentions are to engage in a crime.

But those who choose to openly carry a gun just to prove that they can legally do it put "a tremendous strain" on local enforcement, which is problematic, Jarosh said.

Police are trained to draw their guns if they see someone else armed with a firearm, but they must also hesitate to determine the person's intentions for carrying. That, ultimately, could cost someone's life, he said.

Gun-toting alderman

"My neighbors are going to see me carry a firearm from my house to my car tomorrow morning because I'm going turkey hunting in the morning," Jarosh said. "I've done it 100 times and they don't feel threatened because I'm doing it for a lawful reason and it makes a certain amount of sense and I'm not doing it as a display."

Ford said the ordinance she crafts will incorporate the statutory exceptions to the law and would also contain language that would give officers' discretion to formulate reasonable suspicion of intent.

Richards said he will address the open gun carry law with other government leaders in Milwaukee County.

"I'm sure that everybody in the other communities feels the same way," he said.

Chantel Balzell can be reached at (262) 446-6602.

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