Wisconsin Concealed Carry Law: Supreme Court Resolves Conflicting Statutes

In a 6-1 decision issued on April 10, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a Wisconsin man for carrying a uncased, loaded handgun in the glove compartment of his vehicle without a concealed carry license. 

In State v. Grandberry, the court address the case of Brian Grandberry, who was convicted of a Class A misdemeanor for violating the Wisconsin Conceal Carry Statute. This statute prohibits carrying a concealed handgun without a state-issued concealed carry permit.

Mr. Grandberry argued that his conviction should be overturned because the Wisconsin Safe Transport Statute expressly permits the transportation of an uncased and loaded handgun. This statute provides that persons cannot place, possess, or transport a firearm unless “the firearm is unloaded or is a handgun.” According to Mr. Grandberry, the two statutes unconstitutionally conflict with each other and are unconstitutionally vague. He urged the court to conclude an individual who complies with the Safe Transport Statue cannot also be determined to have violated the Concealed Carry Statute.

The court disagreed. It determined that in order to comply with Wisconsin law, an individual must adhere to the provisions of both statutes. Writing for the majority, Justice Gableman penned:

We hold that the Concealed Carry Statute and Safe Transport Statute are not in conflict because Grandberry could have complied with both by either obtaining a license to carry a concealed weapon pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 175.60 (hereinafter "concealed carry license" or "license") or by placing his loaded handgun out of reach . . . We [also] hold that the Concealed Carry Statute is not unconstitutionally vague because a person of ordinary intelligence has sufficient notice that carrying a concealed and dangerous weapon is unlawful unless one of the enumerated exceptions in the Concealed Carry Statute applies.

The majority appeared to take issue with the fine-line that Mr. Grandberry's argument attempted to draw. In what some might describe as Posner-esqe comments, Justice Gableman administered a mild bench-slap by pointing out what the majority seems to conclude is an obvious flaw in Mr. Grandberry's argument.

Grandberry's argument boils down to a complaint that the statutes overlap such that placing his loaded handgun in his glove compartment constitutes both transporting under the Safe Transport Statute and carrying under the Concealed Carry Statute, and thus his conduct can comply with one statute while simultaneously violating the other. Grandberry asks how a person reading the Safe Transport Statute can possibly know that complying with the terms of that statute may, in some circumstances, also violate the Concealed Carry Statute. Unlike the bulk of Grandberry's arguments, the answer to his question is straightforward and elegant in its simplicity: read the Concealed Carry Statute.

The only dissenting opinion was issued by Justice Bradley, who concluded that the statues are, in fact, unconstitutionally vague. She notes that "The text of both statutes does not alert a gun owner of any connection between the two, much less a dependency of the Safe Transport Statute on the Concealed Carry Licensing Statute." She also took issue with the inconsistent enforcement of the Concealed Carry Statute by Wisconsin law enforcement, which the state admitted routinely ignore violations of the Concealed Carry Statue that are committed during hunting season by individuals carrying long guns as opposed to handguns.  

This is necessary because hunters must transport their long guns to reach their hunting destinations, and Wisconsin does not issue concealed carry licenses for long guns. Finding a place in most vehicles where a group of hunters traveling together could place multiple long guns without violating § 941.23 is highly unlikely if not altogether impossible. If law enforcement arrested hunters every time they violated § 941.23, our court system would be overwhelmed with thousands of such cases and repeat offenders every hunting season.

Notwithstanding Justice Bradley's dissent, the rule in Wisconsin is now clarified to mean that it is illegal to carry a loaded handgun in a glove box in Wisconsin without a concealed carry license.