Every day, about 300 applications pour in to the Department of Justice headquarters in Madison from people who want a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Jamie Besaw is one the people planning to get a permit.
"We have five daughters," Besaw said. "I'd like to feel like that I can protect me and my family and my kids. That's the biggest thing."
He and about two dozen people recently attended a concealed carry training class in Shawano County.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says right now, most applications are being turned around in less than two weeks.
"What we're doing right now is working very well," Van Hollen said in an interview. He expects the rush to level off later this year but the first eight months of the law have been very busy.
The new concealed carry law has proven to be more popular than the Department of Justice thought. In fact, they had to bring in additional staff to deal with the flood of applications. The state originally hired one full-time and 10 temporary employees to process applications and conduct background checks. But that wasn't enough to keep up. More temporary workers were hired in December.
Last month, the Department of Justice asked the Legislature to allow it to spend $788,548 for eight more employees and supplies. The money used to fund the program comes from the $50 application fees.
"We've been juggling the number of positions that we've requested to make sure we have enough people to meet our statutory deadlines but not so many that we're wasting taxpayer dollars," Van Hollen said. "So we're continually asking the Legislature for different numbers of people in different capacities so that we can try to balance that out."
Since the law took effect on November 1, the state has issued about 115,000 permits. About 2,900 applications have been denied, most of them because of what's called "address mismatch" where the applicant listed a different address than the one on file with the Department of Transportation. Others reasons applications can be denied are for domestic abuse and felony convictions or if an applicant is not a Wisconsin resident.
Nik Clark from Wisconsin Carry Inc. is a supporter of concealed carry.
"We think it's working very well," he said. Clark says he carries everywhere he can, every day.
"I think, for me, I worry less about my personal protection," Clark said. "I'm a big guy. I can take care of myself in most situations. But I carry because it is a right and I think it's a safe practice."
When asked what he would say to critics of the law who are concerned with more people carrying guns Clark replied, "That's really a fact of ignorance. And I don't mean lack of intelligence just lack of knowledge about the subject. Law abiding citizens who carry for self defense aren't the ones that you have to worry about. There's always been criminals carrying concealed and you just didn't know it. You weren't aware of it. So my message to those people is they should be more concerned about the criminal that's carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and without a legal right to do so."
But Jeri Bonavia of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort she'd prefer to have no one carrying.
"The problem is it is a change in the way we interact in society," Bonavia said. "It says that the best way for us to live amongst each other is armed. For me, that's not the kind of future I want to give to my children. It's not the kind of future I envision for a state like Wisconsin."
She says there's no way to know whether the law is working.
"The records are kept secret," she said. "So we don't know who has the permits so therefore when incidents occur we don't know whether those people are permit holders or not so there's no way to know whether permit holders are involved in more crimes than the general public or fewer."
When asked if people have a right to know who has a permit to carry Van Hollen said, "There's no reason it should be public knowledge who has a concealed weapon and who doesn't. For instance, if people are looking to steal firearms all they have to do is look at a database at who has a concealed carry permit and they have pretty good odds of figuring out who has a firearm they may be able to steal."
Van Hollen, who is a permit holder himself, says many people who can carry don't.
"Most people who I encounter, including myself, who carry concealed weapons are going to have a permit but not always carry because people are going to find that it may sound neat but it gets pretty cumbersome, especially when you have to take it out, put it in your car and lock it because you're going in some places. So a lot of people really aren't carrying the weapons. Those who are are usually very well-schooled and very disciplined in its use," Van Hollen said.
Jamie Besaw says when he gets his permit, he plans to use it.
"Eventually I think I'll carry all the time just to protect myself," he said.
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