The people have the right to keep and bear arms for security, defense, hunting, recreation or any other lawful purpose.
-Wisconsin State Constitution, Article 1, § 25
Wisconsin exemplifies the idea that strong protection of gun owner rights is compatible with gun safety. The right to bear arms is alive and well in the Badger State, where people are permitted to openly carry firearms in public and obtain concealed firearms permits. Gun owners face few restrictions on the types of weapons and ammunition they may possess.
Wisconsinites also are not required to register firearms. While this makes gun ownership statistics difficult to obtain, reports by private organizations indicate that roughly half of the state’s population owns firearms. Wisconsin is reported to have the 12th highest rate of gun ownership in the country.
According to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, only 14 states have more licensed firearm dealers than Wisconsin.
The large number of gun deaths in the United States is often attributed to high rates of U.S. gun ownership in the nation. The United States leads the world in gun deaths, averaging about 9,000 per year.
What about Wisconsin gun crimes? Despite Wisconsin’s high gun ownership rate, it does not have a particularly high rate of homicides involving firearms. Firearms were involved in 63.9% of the 169 homicides that took place in Wisconsin in 2012. By comparison, firearms were involved in 69.3% of homicides nationally. And among states in the Midwest, firearms accounted for 73.7% of homicides on average.
Wisconsin also compares favorably with national and regional trends in terms of other gun crimes. Nationwide in 2012, for example, 21.8% of aggravated assaults nationwide involved firearms. In the Midwest, 24.5% of aggravated assaults involved firearms. In Wisconsin, firearms were involved in 20.1% of aggravated assaults.
Rate of Gun Deaths
A recent analysis found that Wisconsin had a lower rate of firearms deaths than the nation as a whole over the period of 2000-2010. Wisconsin had 8.14 firearms deaths per 100,000 population during those years. Nationally, the rate was 10.21 deaths, according to the study by a researcher at Columbia University in New York City.
Wisconsin Gun Measures
These numbers suggest that Wisconsin residents do a fair job of managing their firearms, and state law confirms this. Wisconsin has a number of sensible gun control policies on the books. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in 2013 ranked Wisconsin 17th out of 50 based on 30 different firearms-related policy areas.
Some of the gun measures in Wisconsin include:
Responsible adults in the state of Wisconsin may possess firearms without many restrictions. The following individuals, however, may not possesses a firearm:
No individual, furthermore, may possess a firearm within 1,000 feet of school grounds.
Last year, bills were introduced in the Wisconsin State Legislature that would extend background checks to private firearms sales and gun shows, which account for 40% of all gun purchases. But the measures did not pass during the session that ended in April this year.
While Wisconsin may in the future pass a universal background check law, the state’s relatively low rates of gun crime, considered alongside its active gun culture, suggest that gun owner rights and gun laws can coexist peacefully.