MADISON - Applicants to carry concealed weapons in Wisconsin no longer will have to complete four hours of training, after a Republican-controlled legislative committee voted Monday to do away with the requirement characterized by the National Rifle Association as overly strict.
The rule mandating the completion of at least four hours of training was put in place by Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's Department of Justice in advance of the law taking effect last week.
Van Hollen testified Monday in support of the rule, saying it was necessary because the Legislature had declared that training was required, but didn't specify how much.
He said four hours was the industry standard, adding that having no minimum requirement would make it impossible for the Department of Justice to verify applicants had completed any training.
Also, given that more than 20,000 people already had submitted applications for the permits, Van Hollen said the public has not found the requirement to be onerous.
But Republicans who control the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules ignored Van Hollen's concerns and voted to suspend the rule, effective immediately. The committee also removed a requirement calling for applicants to have a signed statement from an instructor verifying the course had been successfully completed.
Baraboo Police Chief Mark Schauf said he supports a citizen's right to carry a concealed weapon, but adds that he has safety concerns related to the removal of the four-hour training requirement.
"Drawing and firing the weapon is the easy part," Schauf said. "Deciding when to fire the weapon and when not to fire it is the hard part.
"As police officers, we're required to have training before we get our weapons and a certain number of training hours throughout the year. If we have to be trained, it would only make sense that a person in public would want to be trained, as well."
Schauf said training teaches gun owners how to overcome a phenomenon known as auditory exclusion, in which a person focuses solely on what's in front of them during an intense situation. Training helps gun owners grow aware of their total surroundings and not make rash firing decisions.
Many gun owners likely will get the necessary training, Schauf said, but he's concerned about those who may not.
Republican lawmakers who revoked the rule said they did not believe it was important.
"There's no reason why we have to micromanage how people obtain their concealed-carry permit," said Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend.
Other states with no minimum training requirements haven't had any problems and "there's going to be no problem in the state of Wisconsin, either," Grothman said.
Republican Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, a sponsor of the bill, said the Legislature's intent was to leave it up to applicants to determine how many hours of training they needed.
"I really truly believe we have to trust that individual," Suder said, adding that the DOJ does not have the authority to specify a minimum number of hours.
From now on, the DOJ will be "very liberal in accepting applications unless we have reason to believe there has been fraud or dishonesty or some aspect of the law has been disregarded," Van Hollen said.
Democrats on the committee sided with Van Hollen, but didn't have enough votes to keep the rule in place.
"Without the provisions of four hours (of training), we have a subjective standard that anybody is going to be able to meet," said Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison. "I don't know why on Earth this committee would want to jeopardize public health and public safety by doing this."
Gov. Scott Walker signed off on the emergency rules last month, just two weeks before the law took effect Nov. 1.
Walker, commenting after the NRA complained that the training requirement was unjustified and too strict, said he had reservations about the rule but said he had no choice, given that the law was about to go into effect.
A spokesman for the NRA had no immediate comment on Monday's action.
"It definitely increases the risk level," said Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo. "I just wish these guys would work as hard at getting people back to work and at restoring the economy as they are at assuring everyone can carry a gun."
Clark said he thought the DOJ's four-hour training requirement was a reasonable approach to balance gun owners' rights with public safety concerns.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed Wisconsin's concealed-carry law in July after years of lobbying from the NRA. With passage of that law, Illinois is left as the only state in which concealed weapons are banned.
Under the law, anyone who wants to carry a concealed weapon must obtain a permit from the DOJ. Applicants must receive training through courses conducted by national or state organizations that certify firearm instructors; courses offered by police departments, technical colleges and universities; and courses for police officers and private detectives. They also must provide written proof they have completed such a course.
As of Monday afternoon, 1,669 licenses to carry concealed weapons had been approved and 339 had been rejected, DOJ spokeswoman Dana Brueck said.
Baraboo News Republic reporter Tim Damos contributed to this report.