When Wisconsin lawmakers gather to discuss the business of the day at least one of them is legally packing a concealed weapon, amid the ever-present and heated gun law debate in the US.
Wisconsin is one of just nine US states — out of 50 — which have expanded conceal-carry laws to allow gun owners to enter state capitols with their weapons, including on the assembly floor.
After the law was passed in November, state representative Bill Kramer applied for a permit for a Glock 9mm handgun, in a politically charged national atmosphere which saw Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords shot and badly wounded at a rally in January last year.
Kramer says he began to be fearful for his own safety after a raucous standoff over a collective bargaining bill last year which saw over 100,000 people protesting outside the Wisconsin assembly building for over two months.
“When we needed a police escort to get into the building, that makes you stand up and take notice,” Kramer said. “When people get away with shouting at you, it doesn’t mean it will be long before they get their hands on you.”
Now, Kramer said, he carries the firearm with him “all the time.”
Last year’s shooting of Giffords, in which six people were killed, has heightened concerns in US state capitols, generating calls from some lawmakers for more permission to carry concealed weapons.
Events such as Monday’s rampage at a California school in which seven people were shot and killed, allegedly by a former student, and the Trayvon Martin case have again ignited controversy over the nation’s gun laws.
Many statehouses are stepping up security with metal detectors and other measures, but some legislators say the best move would be to allow them to carry their own weapons all the time.
Gun laws, enshrined in the US Constitution which gives Americans the right to bear arms, vary from state to state — and the issue is hotly debated with some people calling for tighter gun controls and others maintaining they need to be loosened up.
In some states a concealed weapon requires a police escort or restricts gun owners to certain areas of the building while others — Texas and Kentucky — just require gun owners to produce their permit before entering.
Wisconsin became the 49th state with a conceal-carry law on the books, a provision that allows lawmakers to carry weapons in their offices and other government buildings.
However, now lawmakers in other states are also calling for expanded rights, not just in state capitols, but also in other areas where concealed handgun owners are exempt from carrying weapons.