By Jeff Mayers
MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) - The Wisconsin Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved legislation that would legalize the carrying of concealed weapons in the state.
The bill, which still needs approval from the assembly, carried the senate by a 25-8 vote.
The legislation mandates background checks for those seeking permission to carry concealed weapons. But it would allow them in most public places except police stations, courts, schools and businesses that post signs. Concealed weapons could also be carried in parks and taverns.
The bill's author, Republican Senator Pam Galloway, said she supported it because of sparse law enforcement presence in rural areas of her district.
Another Republican, Senator Dan Kapanke, said 48 other states have legal concealed carry laws to allow citizens to protect themselves, while in Wisconsin criminals were not stopped by the lack of such legislation.
"We already have concealed carry," Kapanke said. "Those bent on criminal activity have been doing this for a long, long time."
But Democratic Senator Spencer Coggs of Milwaukee said his city has a gun violence problem, and with the bill "you're going to have more people who will be out with more guns."
"The solution is less guns, not more guns."
Nineteen Democratic amendments were turned down by the Republican-controlled senate during the debate, although some Democrats supported the legislation.
Senator Lena Taylor, another Milwaukee Democrat, said many in her district carry concealed weapons regardless of the current law. She also said the bill had seen dramatic improvement since its introduction.
"What is really to be feared is not the machine itself but really the one holding the machine." Taylor said.
The bill now goes to the Assembly, where the Republicans also have a majority and which is expected to approve the measure without amendment and send it to Republican Governor Scott Walker. Walker has said he backs the bill.
(Reporting by Jeff Mayers. Writing by Jerry Norton. Editing by Peter Bohan)