If you, like many Americans, consider it important to carry for self-defense, it's important to know the legality of any weapon that you might be carrying in each state that you visit.
You may even already be facing trial for the act of possessing or carrying a weapon without committing any other crimes.
For those planning to visit or relocate to Wisconsin, or for those who may be facing criminal charges pertaining to a weapons violation, this article will present you with details about Wisconsin weapon carrying laws, the potential consequences for violating those laws, and a few example defenses that may help those in need.
The Basics of Wisconsin's Weapon Carrying Laws
"The people have the right to keep and bear arms for security, defense, hunting, recreation or any other lawful purpose."
- Article I, Section 25 of the Wisconsin State Constitution
First, it is important to know that Wisconsin is an open carry state with restrictions on certain weapons and areas, such as carrying a weapon openly while inside a vehicle or possessing an automatic weapon.
Within your own home, you are free to wield an otherwise legal weapon openly or store them wherever you please, as Wisconsin follows "Castle Doctrine" laws. Wisconsin's concealed carry permit allows you to retain a weapon, such as a firearm or an electrical shock device, in a hidden location within reach of your person.
While being concealed does include the expected locations such as a glove compartment or a concealed holster, any location that is out of sight from people nearby is considered concealed.
While not a weapon, the subject of firearms makes it prudent to mention that you may own and wear body armor as long as you are not a felon or mentally ill.
Wisconsin follows the practice of reciprocity, meaning that out-of-state licenses are considered legally equivalent to in-state licenses and grant all of the same privileges. Anyone who has been charged with a felony, whether in Wisconsin or another state, can absolutely not possess a firearm of any type at any time.
If you have received an injunction from the state or a tribal injunction related to domestic abuse, you are also forbidden from owning any sort of dangerous weapon. The concealed carrying of a knife is not normally subject to criminal charges, but those who are unable to obtain a concealed carry permit for a firearm are subject to the same criminal charges for doing so.
You can apply for a concealed carry license, renew your application, and find general information about concealed carrying online thanks to the efforts of the Wisconsin DoJ.
Consequences of a Weapons Charge Conviction in Wisconsin
The potential consequences of a weapons charge can vary based on the type of weapon, the location where the incident took place, and the other peculiarities of the case. As a quick primer, Wisconsin assigns lettered classes to both misdemeanors and felonies.
- Felonies range from class A to I with A being the most offensive, and misdemeanors range from A to C in descending order of severity as well. Learn more about Wisconsin's felony classes.
- Misdemeanors are not punishable by time in state prison, but local and county imprisonment is possible.
- For a citizen with no prior record, carrying a concealed weapon without a permit anywhere within the state is a class A misdemeanor, putting you at risk of up to $10,000 in fines, 9 months of jail time, or as much of both as the judge decides.
- While you can openly carry in public, you must be a concealed carry licensee or public officer to go inside a public building or a place where alcohol is served will also earn you a class A misdemeanor. Miscellaneous weapons intended to disable people or destroy property, aside from pepper spray, are illegal to possess with a punishment of a class A misdemeanor and class D forfeiture.
Weapons Modifications and Wisconsin Law
Wisconsin law pays special attention to more dangerous weapons and intentionally modifying devices to make them more dangerous. Possession of a machine gun, defined by the state as any weapon capable of delivering more than one bullet with a single trigger press, is not allowed even with a concealed carry permit and is considered a class H felony with fines up to $10,000, up to 6 years imprisonment, or both.
Penalties for converting a weapon to automatic firing in Wisconsin
- If the state finds evidence that you performed modifications to the weapon to make it automatic, the felony is upgraded to class F with consequences of a fine up to $25,000 and imprisonment up to 12 years and six months.
Penalties for weaponizing a drone in Wisconsin
- If you were to weaponize an aerial drone in any manner and don't happen to be a member of the military working in their official capacities, you would be guilty of a class H felony.
In the course of an arrest, ticket, or the investigation of your case, your weapon may be seized as evidence. If the weapon is a firearm seized during another crime or is an illegal weapon type such as a machine gun or short-barrel rifle, the weapon will not be returned and is likely destined to be destroyed.
Common Weapons Charges and Defenses Seen in Wisconsin
While every case is different, peering back at past cases and defenses concerning weapons charges can help you avoid making the same mistakes or fight back in the courtroom.
As noted above, one of the biggest contrasts between Wisconsin's weapons laws and other states' is the regulation of weapons that use electrical currents to disable their victim.
A concealed carry permit in Wisconsin does allow you to carry a taser, but out-of-state people who carry non-lethal deterrence without a license legally at home may see themselves suddenly facing the charge of carrying a concealed weapon for having a taser in their possession.
Because of their less lethal payload and general admission in other states, a careful argument from an out-of-state taser-wielder may result in reduced penalties compared to carrying a concealed firearm.
Wisconsin law defines a concealed weapon as one that is within reach of the owner but is not visible to people nearby. For example, a handgun under the driver's seat of the car would be considered within reach of the driver and out of sight thereby qualifying as a concealed carry, but firearms carried in the trunk of a car or in a tool case in the back of the truck would not count as a concealed carry because they are out of reach.
Carrying a concealed weapon without a license because of an imminent threat to yourself or a loved one is an open avenue of defense, but the case must be solidly made to avoid failing as it has in previous trials held in state courts.
Charges for concealed carry have been overturned due to appeals to the state constitution, but they require the judge to weigh the right to maintain public safety against the citizen's right to bear arms.
While the defendant in the case was not allowed to use the extremely high crime in the area, including threats to his own life and business, in the course of his defense, the testimony from the officer involved about other store owners owning and concealing weapons was used to show that the practices of the defendant were common to the area.
Because of the case, temporary concealment in the course of legal open carry may be defensible depending on the circumstances.
FREE 15-Minute Consultation
While knowing the basics of Wisconsin law regarding weapons charges makes it easier to understand your legal trajectory, the peculiarities of each case require an experienced attorney to determine which aspects of the weapons laws would apply, whether a defense fits the situation, or how to mitigate the consequences of a weapons charge to a reasonable level.
Madison Criminal Defense Attorney Patrick J. Stangl, is committed to exploring options for your best defense and has been defending clients across the state since 1991. To this end, he is pleased to offer at no-obligation a FREE 15-minute consultation to discuss the specifics of your case and take the first step in putting this stressful time behind you.