Baraboo Common Council members took one step closer to adopting an ordinance that would require gun stores to use surveillance systems despite concerns over the threat of a lawsuit from a nonprofit group claiming it would defy state laws.
Police Chief Mark Schauf said the recommendation came from the city Public Safety Committee, but it began within the police department. A theft at Jim’s Gun Supply, along Eighth Street, prompted discussion among officers after suspects were caught, but pointed to each other as the person who stole the weapons.
“I’m in favor of this,” Schauf said, after reading aloud from the state statute referenced by the Second Amendment organization Wisconsin Carry Inc.
Council President Nik Clark sent an email to City Attorney Emily Truman in late August asking the city not follow through with the proposed ordinance. Clark has said the group, which has been successful in other lawsuits regarding concealed carry laws, would likely pursue legal action against the local government if it did.
Schauf noted Wisconsin statute 66.0409 prohibits a municipality in any attempt to “enact or enforce an ordinance or adopt a resolution that regulates the sale, purchase, purchase delay, transfer, ownership, use, keeping, possession, bearing, transportation, licensing, permitting, registration, or taxation of any knife or any firearm or part of a firearm, including ammunition and reloader components, unless the ordinance or resolution is the same as or similar to, and no more stringent than, a state statute.”
The word “regulate” is up for interpretation by all parties involved. For Clark, it means cameras overseeing sales.
Truman said she didn’t see the proposed law as infringing on the state statute. She told council members Tuesday that the city ordinance was partially crafted in the model of an Illinois state law that passed earlier this year. She said she received an email from Clark indicating a lawsuit may be the result of the city passing the proposed ordinance, but for municipalities passing something new, “that’s a fact of life sometimes.”
“I would never endorse the council adopting an ordinance if I felt like it was illegal or unlawful or pre-empted by a state statute,” Truman said. “I do not feel that this is illegal, unlawful or pre-emptive. It’s always a reality for any kind of statute or ordinance a municipality adopts that it can be challenged.”
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While she said she would never recommend council members pass something that “wasn’t vetted,” Truman acknowledged “it is always a risk.” She added that she hasn’t heard of the group acquiring a willing plaintiff to sue the city, which she said would be instrumental in that type of litigation.
Schauf said the ordinance doesn’t infringe on anyone’s ability to operate a business because the cameras are privately owned. The Fourth Amendment requires government entities like police to have permission or obtain the proper legal documents before being able to view any recordings that belong to gun store owners if a crime were to happen.
“We’re not saying you can’t sell guns,” Schauf said. “We just want a recording so we can protect you and your patrons.”
Jim’s Gun Supply owner Jim Astle said as a member of law enforcement, he should have known to keep updated security cameras at his store, but had “sort of blown it off” after thinking about it before. He said it didn’t seem like there would be a need at his small, family-run business. When he began operating in 1992, Astle said he had a system, but it was destroyed by a lightning strike.
“I just never replaced them but I should have,” Astle said. “Technology is so cool now.”
When the store was established, it was grainy black and white footage on bulky equipment for a high price, but now security cameras have high-quality surveillance and can be installed everywhere, Astle added. Schauf noted during the meeting that the cost has come down as technology improved.
Astle said cameras “would have helped the investigation a lot” and plans to install exterior and interior equipment with the help of experts from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives at the end of the month when the system arrives.
Wisconsin Carry contacted Astle about their concerns. The store owner denounced any type of affiliation with the organization. He said if Clark did ask him to become involved in any type of lawsuit, “the answer would have been a firm no.”
“I stand behind the chief,” Astle said. “I completely support (the ordinance).”
Council members voted 8-0 to approve the first reading of the ordinance. Michael Plautz was absent. There will be a final vote Oct. 8.
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