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Tosa eyes weapons ban in all city buildings

Public asked to speak out on topic

Sept. 14, 2011

As the date nears for the state's concealed carry law to go into effect, the city is considering banning all weapons from its buildings.

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill into law that allows people to carry concealed weapons with a license beginning Nov. 1. However, individual property owners - from business owners to churches - can decide to prohibit people entering their facilities while armed.

As the owner of city buildings, the Wauwatosa Common Council has the power to ban concealed and openly carried weapons, City Attorney Alan Kesner told the Community Development Committee on Tuesday. By creating an ordinance, only police would be allowed to enter city buildings armed.

When it comes to building operations, staff has the authority to handle many changes administratively. However, the controversial nature of concealed carry and a specific mention of the building owner - in this case the people who have chosen the aldermen to represent them - led him to put the decision to council members.

Due to the late hour when discussion got under way, the committee decided to hold off on significant consideration for two weeks. In the meantime, they hope to receive feedback from constituents.

"Taxpayers really are the owners, so we need to know what they think," said Alderwoman Jill Organ, committee chairwoman.

Committee members said they expect opinion will be split, and they are bracing for the issue to get contentious.

Alderman Bobby Pantuso asked Kesner to look into whether bans at government buildings had faced legal challenges in other states where concealed carry had been enacted.

"I could see us being a moving target for gun right activists," he said.

The issue will draw strong feelings from the public, Police Chief Barry Weber said, so residents should be heard before any decisions are made.

"Whatever you decide to do is probably going to be controversial," he said.

There are arguments to be made for and against a ban, but a local government's first responsibility is to protect its residents, Weber said.

As an officer, he's carried a concealed weapon for 36 years. Weber called it a "travesty" that to feel safe people have to carry weapons. The city has seen some decline in the number of violent crime incidents but residents don't have a perception of safety.

If an ordinance gets approved, signs would be placed at the entrances of all buildings alerting people that weapons are prohibited, Assistant City Attorney Eileen Miller Carter said. Weapons already are banned from City Hall on Monday and Wednesday nights when municipal court is in session.

Local government is restricted more than private property owners, Kesner said. Businesses can prohibit weapons anywhere on their land, whereas the city is limited to regulating inside its buildings. In addition to the Civic Center, which includes City Hall and the library, an ordinance would apply to fire and police stations, public works and water utility facilities, the Little Red Store, and the Muellner Building and other buildings in Hart Park.

As for regulating the actual park, Kesner recommended a weapons ban as a condition in park rental agreements. Special event organizers have the power to prohibit their attendees from bringing weapons, he said.

In the case of the concealed carry law, the term weapons describes handguns, knives and billy clubs, Miller Carter said.

The League of Municipalities asked state lawmakers to include language prohibiting weapons in any government buildings, Kesner said. That didn't happen, so it's up to each municipality to address the topic. Brookfield, Elm Grove and West Allis are all working on local laws to keep weapons out of their buildings.

Next step

WHAT: The Community Development Committee will discuss whether to prohibit weapons in all city buildings.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Sept. 27

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

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