Wisconsin Assembly leader carries gun on floorMADISON — The Republican lawmaker who presides over the state Assembly said Friday he’s been carrying a concealed weapon during floor sessions.
By: Todd Richmond, Associated Press
MADISON — The Republican lawmaker who presides over the state Assembly said Friday he’s been carrying a concealed weapon during floor sessions.
Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer of Waukesha controls the chamber during debate. He presides over the chamber’s procedures, is responsible for upholding decorum and can order spectators out of the chamber if he so chooses.
He told the Associated Press that he obtained permit No. 16,657 under Wisconsin’s new concealed-carry law. He said he’s had the permit since before Thanksgiving and has carried a hidden Glock 26, a subcompact semi-automatic, on the Assembly floor at times.
He said he hopes he never has to use the gun, but feels he needs it given the toxic atmosphere at the state Capitol, adding he’s not the only lawmaker packing in the chamber.
“Have you been in the Capitol lately?” Kramer said. “The saying is you don’t need a gun until you need it. I hope to go to my grave having never fired it at anything but a paper target.”
Wisconsin became the 49th state to allow concealed weapons in November. Republicans who control the Assembly and Senate decided to allow lawmakers to carry hidden weapons on the floor. They banned concealed weapons in the Senate’s overhead spectator galleries but chose to allow them in the Assembly’s galleries.
The law took effect during a period of unprecedented tension in the state Capitol. Democrats and their allies are still fuming over Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s contentious collective bargaining law, which stripped most public workers of nearly all their union rights.
Walker said he had to impose the changes to help fill a $3.6 billion hole in the state budget and help local governments deal with sharp cuts in state aid. Democrats, though, saw the legislation as a death blow to unions, one of their key constituencies.
Tens of thousands of people spent three weeks at the Capitol protesting around the clock against the measure. Senate Democrats fled the state in a futile attempt to block a vote and Assembly Democrats launched a 61-hour filibuster — which Kramer presided over — but Republicans passed the measure anyway.
Democrats have launched recall drives against Walker, Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four GOP senators, and a group of agitators is still making life miserable for Republican legislators, interrupting committee meetings and chasing them through the Capitol calling them names. One threw a beer on Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, in September.
Last week, protesters heckled Walker from the Assembly’s galleries as the governor delivered his state-of-the-state speech in the chamber. The following night, Kramer ordered the galleries cleared during debate on a divisive mining permitting bill after protesters hung a banner over a railing and hurled profanities at lawmakers under the cover of mass coughs and throat-clearing.
Kramer said he’s endured insults and threatening e-mails. He pointed to one message from November calling for Jesus to return and stab him with a flaming sword. Still, he said cat-calls, insults and profanities aren’t enough to drive him to draw his gun. He said he would use it only if he felt like he was being personally threatened and was in “imminent danger.”
“Otherwise it stays in the holster,” he said.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, didn’t immediately return a message Friday afternoon.
Chris Reeder, who leads a group of demonstrators in a daily lunch-hour sing-along in the Capitol rotunda, said he was shocked to hear Kramer is packing. “I think the protesters are in general a pretty well-behaved bunch,” he said.