MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin's capital city must allow passengers to carry hidden weapons on buses, the state Supreme Court said Tuesday in siding with a gun rights group that local governments cannot trump the state's concealed-carry law.
The ruling from the high court's conservative majority could provide fodder for gun advocates to challenge local governments' weapon policies they feel are tougher than the state concealed-carry law. City of Madison attorney John Strange said the ruling puts passengers in danger.
"From a public safety perspective, the decision creates greater risk to passengers by allowing guns on moving and crowded buses," he said.
Wisconsin Carry, a gun rights group, challenged Madison's Metro Transit in 2014 after it prohibited a passenger with a concealed-carry license from bringing a gun on a bus. The group argued Metro Transit's policy prohibiting weapons of any kind on buses cannot supersede the state's concealed-carry law. Metro Transit adopted its rule in 2005.
The state appeals court sided with the city in 2015, saying that Metro Transit's rule did not amount to an "ordinance" or "resolution" banning concealed weapons, which the concealed-carry law prohibits. In overturning that ruling, the Supreme Court concluded that passengers can bring firearms or other type weapons on buses, as long as they follow other applicable laws.
The Supreme Court concluded that the concealed-carry law's purpose is to allow the carrying of concealed weapons as broadly and uniformly as possible. Following that reasoning, Metro Transit's rule functions similarly to an ordinance or resolution passed by a municipality banning concealed weapons and therefore is superseded by the concealed-carry law.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel had filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Wisconsin Carry.
The court ruled 5-2, with liberal-leaning Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson dissenting. Justice Daniel Kelly wrote the majority opinion.
In her dissent joined by Abrahamson, Bradley argued that the majority opinion expanded the law's intent to fit its purpose. She argued Metro Transit's policy does not amount to an ordinance or resolution.
Wisconsin Carry President Nik Clark said the people who rely on public transit should be able to carry concealed weapons just as people who drive their own cars.
He expects the ruling to have implications in other Wisconsin cities, both in public transit systems and some public outdoor areas.
"There are other mass transit entities around the state that have prohibitive policies," he said. "Once we review the decision, we'll have a better understanding of how far-reaching it is."
He said Oshkosh's GO Transit rider policy currently prohibits firearms and weapons on buses. A GO Transit spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said he would ask the state Legislature to change the law to allow cities to ban concealed weapons on buses. He said it's also possible that other bus operators that go through Madison, but that cross city and state lines, may have standing to bring a federal lawsuit.
Metro Transit's spokesman Mick Rusch said that Metro Transit is concerned about the ruling's impact on passenger safety but will comply with the law. Rusch said city attorneys were still determining when the ruling will take effect.
Gov. Scott Walker signed Wisconsin's concealed-carry law in 2011. The statute allows people to get licenses that allow them to carry a concealed gun. The law gives business owners and private property owners the option to ban weapons from their premises, but generally allows licensees to carry statewide.
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