Who can own guns in Wisconsin?

Criminal convictions and other factors impact your ability to own guns in Wisconsin

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  While the language of this protection seems straightforward, various things impact your ability to keep and possess firearms in Wisconsin.  Sometimes a prior conviction impacts your ability to possess firearms.  In others, the government limits your ability to carry in certain buildings or locations.  In this blog post we’ll discuss who can own guns in Wisconsin and where that ownership ceases based upon legal snags.

At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., our criminal defense lawyers regularly fight on behalf of clients facing all kinds of firearms charges.  Whether it’s something serious like a shooting or being a felon in possession of a firearm, or something on the more mitigated end such as simply being caught carrying a concealed weapon, we’ve encountered many different scenarios involving firearms.  If you face any kind of criminal charge, contact us immediately at (414) 270-0202 for help.

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Minors in possession of firearms in Wisconsin:

Individuals under 12 years old in Wisconsin can only possess firearms while engaging in a Hunter Safety program.  Importantly a child under 12 years old may complete the program but must wait until he’s 12 to actually hunt.  Once a child turns 12, he’s allowed to possess a firearm under limited circumstances.  A parent or guardian (or adult appointed by the parent or guardian) must accompany the child while in possession of the gun, and the child must engaged in either target shooting or hunting.

The law changes slightly when the child is 14-16, if the child is issued a certificate of accomplishment stating he successfully completed a hunter education program or a similar certificate.  At that point the child may possess the firearm without parental supervision.

While these firearm laws only apply to hunting and target practice, they’re certainly important.  Under section 948.60 of the Wisconsin Statutes, it is a Class A misdemeanor for a child under 18 to illegally possess a firearm.  Adhering to these restrictions is absolutely necessary to avoid criminal charges.

Gun Ownership in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, anyone aged 18 or older can open carry a firearm.  That right is limited to only locations where carrying a concealed weapon is legal, and the individual must not be otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm.  Interestingly, there is no licensing requirement to purchase a firearm in Wisconsin.  A purchase made through a licensed dealer will require a background check and identification.  Wisconsin, like other states, has a “gun show loophole” which allows for sales from private dealers without a required background check.

In Wisconsin you must be 21 years old to purchase a firearm.

As previous mentioned, there are certain locations where it is illegal to carry a firearm, concealed or otherwise:

  1. A police station, sheriff’s office, state patrol station, or the office of a division of criminal investigation special agent of DOJ;
  2. A prison, jail, house of correction, or secured correctional facility;
  3. A mental health facility for sexually violent persons;
  4. The Wisconsin Resource Center;
  5. Any secured united or secured portion of a mental health institute;
  6. Any county, state, or federal courthouse (subject to an exception for prosecutors and judges);
  7. Municipal courtrooms, but only if they are in session;
  8. A place beyond a security checkpoint in an airport;
  9. Locations where employers prohibit employees from possessing firearms;
  10. Post offices;
  11. School grounds;
  12. Bars;
  13. Federal property (not including national forests)

Concealed Carry

Wisconsin is a shall-issue state for concealed carry licensing.  This means that, upon satisfying certain criteria, the Department of Justice must issue a CCW permit to an applicant.  Wisconsin was the 49th state to allow concealed carry, beginning November 1, 2011.

The DOJ requirements for a carrying a concealed weapon permit include:

  • The applicant must be 21 or older;
  • The applicant must provide a valid, government-issued picture identification;
  • Thirdly, the applicant must complete state-licensed firearm training;
  • The applicant cannot be prohibited from possessing a firearm – through court orders, a felony conviction, a domestic violence conviction, a mental health issue, or a substance abuse issue;
  • Finally, the applicant must meet all federal requirements.

Who Can’t Own a Gun in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin law, in conjunction with federal law, prohibits certain individuals from purchasing, possessing, or owning firearms.  Those individuals include:

  • Any person convicted of a felony in Wisconsin.  Felony convictions from other states count, so long as that conviction would be a felony in Wisconsin.
  • Any person convicted of a charge as a juvenile, so long as that charge is a felony for adults.
  • Individuals charged with a felony but found not guilty based on mental disease or defect.  This applies to individuals meeting this criteria from other states.
  • Individuals subject to a domestic abuse or harassment restraining order.
  • Anyone ordered to not have a gun due to institutionalization based on mental health issues or drug dependency, appointed a guardian, or placed in protective placement.
  • Individuals who use illegal controlled substances, such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.
  • And finally, anyone who has attended rehab based on an alcoholism issue and is determined to be a risk to themselves or public safety.

Do I have to tell the cops I’m carrying?  Wisconsin’s duty to inform.

Certain states require individuals to immediately advise law enforcement personnel they come into contact with that they possess a dangerous weapon.  We refer to this as a duty to inform.

Wisconsin law, however, does not include a duty to inform.  You need not immediately notify a law enforcement officer you make contact with that you possess a firearm.  But that doesn’t make it a bad idea – surprising an officer with a gun is a situation that usually will not end in a friendly manner.

That all being said, upon request by an officer, Wisconsin residents must do a few things as required under Section 175.60(2g)(c) of the Wisconsin Statutes:

  • Firstly, you must provide the officer your CCW permit;
  • Secondly, you must provide the officer with a photographic identification card;
  • And finally, if you’re a military resident, you must provide the officer your military license.
  • Out of state residents must provide the out of state license and photographic identification card.
A man owns a gun in the United States.
The government denies certain individuals the right to possess firearms in Wisconsin. If you face charges for a gun crime, contact us immediately at (414) 270-0202.

An important definition: possession

At this point we’ve made it pretty clear who can and who cannot possess firearms in Wisconsin.  A lot of the law revolves around the word “possession.”  So what is it?

Wisconsin law contains two different definitions of possession, described in Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 920:

  • Firstly, actual possession means the defendant had actual physical control of the item.  For example, the police see the defendant with the firearm in his hand.  This is actual possession.
  • Secondly, an item is in a person’s possession if it is in an area over which the person has control.  The person must also intend to exercise control over the item.  This is constructive possession.

Wisconsin law does not require ownership of an item in order to possess it.  Secondly, it is possible to share possession with another person.  One person may have actual control of an item when another has constructive possession. Alternatively, two people may have constructive possession of the same item.  And finally, two people can actually possess the same item at the time time.

Contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. for help defending firearms charges

Crimes involving firearms frequently involve stiff penalties.  At one point, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office required prosecutors to request a jail sentence in any misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon charge.  While things on the lower end of the spectrum have lightened up, felony gun charges still carry significant prison penalties.

Our criminal defense attorneys certainly understand that there’s usually two sides to a story, and we’d like to hear yours.  If you face any kind of criminal case, contact us immediately.  We’re always available to set up a free consultation to hear about your case and to determine whether we’re an appropriate match moving forward.  Finally, the best way to reach is by phone: (414) 270-0202.

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