In a recent column for WRN, Brandon Maly suggested that winning back Wisconsin’s blue areas was the path to victory for Republicans in Wisconsin. I couldn’t agree more.
For many conservative voters, when they hear Republicans talk about courting Milwaukee and Dane County, it sends shivers down their spine (with good reason). For the past decade, Republicans, as a caucus, in Madison seem to think throwing taxpayer money at issues and trying their level best to be “Democrat Lite” is the way to peel off enough ‘swing voter’ support to win. Unfortunately, election losses, turning off freedom-minded conservatives, suppressing enthusiasm for Republican candidates leaving them asking themselves why they bother to vote, volunteer, and donate “R” is the only accomplishment.
This is especially frustrating when you realize on arguably the most important issues to metropolitan and suburban women voters (crime, personal safety, the woke war on women, kids and girls’ sports, school choice, immigration) the Republican platform issues are supported by all but the 30% deep blue democrat base. I’ll stay in my lane and discuss the crime and personal safety issues.
Wisconsin Carry, Inc. began offering free concealed carry license (CCL) classes after Wisconsin passed Act 35 in 2011. Since that time over 20,000 people have attended our classes. Attending some classes myself and reviewing the class registration data gives me a unique insight into the changing face of concealed carry and “the gun vote” in Wisconsin.
It’s my observation most Republican legislators as well as political consultants who run campaigns for Republicans in Wisconsin think the “gun vote” is a bunch of Generation X and Baby Boomers who hunt, fish, and would likely be found at a Pheasants Forever or Ducks Unlimited banquet. This is a 1990-2010 understanding of “the gun vote” and is as dated as Scott Walker’s Kohl’s sweater vest. Because a majority of this demographic is already voting “R“, Madison Republicans think they already have “the gun vote” in the bag, much like Democrats assume “the black vote” is secured. They are both wrong. What is the “gun vote” in 2023?
For the past 5 years, most attendees of our Milwaukee area classes are non-white, non-male. Women and minorities are the new face of concealed carry. Especially women. Ask anyone who works at a retail gun store for confirmation. Starting with the riots of 2020 and extending to today, the realization Milwaukee and Madison’s soft-on-crime criminal justice system treats law-abiding citizens like criminals and criminals like victims, and uses the streets as a jail, resulting in a flood of concern from urban and suburban women for their safety and ability to protect their children. Citizens are collateral damage in the democrat’s failed social-justice crime experiment. People who never before considered a firearm for personal protection have changed their minds.
This changing face of concealed carry presents an opportunity for Republicans to appeal to demographics that traditionally voted Democrat, but would likely consider a republican candidate who offered the real chance to make them safer. Elected Republicans ‘tough-on-crime’ policies are more symbolism than substance because local DAs and Judges drive the criminal justice system and can side-step new legislation. Elected Republicans CAN provide safety for urban and suburban voters by making concealed carry more attainable and more practicable.
School Grounds Carry: Right now, in Wisconsin, if a CCL holder out walking their kids on a weekend stroll steps one foot on school grounds armed, they are committing a felony. If a mother, father, or grandparent drives one foot onto the school driveway to pick up kids from school with their concealed carry gun with them they are committing a felony. This makes consistent carry impractical for many moms and guardians whose day starts and ends with a trip to school. I have inner-city moms who contact me asking how they can carry while walking their kids to school without committing a felony. In the recent past, a mother was carjacked outside a private school in Hales Corners in the pick-up line.
Republicans in Madison had multiple chances to change this law when Walker was Governor so Wisconsin’s Gun-Free-School-Zone matches the federal GFSZ (which allows CCL holders on school grounds). They refused. Taking action to allow school grounds carry would make life safer for thousands of inner city and near suburban guardians who are not traditionally Republican voters, but would be willing to vote for someone who championed their safety. It would also drive enthusiasm from stalwart carry advocates who are tired of having to unload and encase their guns while rushing to their child’s sporting event from work.
Constitutional Carry: When a state allows a law-abiding adult who is not a convicted felon to carry a concealed firearm without paying a fee to obtain a CCL, this is called “constitutional carry”. 27 states already have “constitutional” carry. It is currently legal to “open carry” without a permit in Wisconsin, but those who wish to carry discretely must pay a fee to the state, go through an application/registration process, and provide token ‘proof of training’. When Scott Walker was Governor the Republican legislature refused to even bring constitutional carry for a vote.
Many law-abiding urban residents without criminal records, for various, reasons do not want to spend the money or go through the hassle of obtaining a concealed carry license. Some of these individuals are then unable to protect themselves. Others choose to risk arrest and carry anyway out of necessity as they live in extremely high crime areas. Constitutional Carry would allow these law-abiding citizens the convenience to carry legally making them safer. These individuals are not typically republican voters but many would be willing to support a candidate who offered them the opportunity for more personal protection. Constitutional carry also appeals to the faithful 2nd Amendment supporting conservatives who don’t believe they should have to pay a tax nor register with the government to exercise their God-given right to self-defense.
What a tremendous opportunity with both these pieces of legislation when the same policy pursuits would appeal to and motivate both long-standing conservative voters along with non-traditional democrat-leaning swing voters.
Sheriff Clarke was the most outspoken elected official in Wisconsin for gun rights during his tenure. His massive electoral victories in the Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee prove personal safety, crime, and gun rights are winning issues for anyone willing to advocate for the citizen, not the criminal. Stated differently, Republicans in Madison should be running toward the gun rights issue, not running away from it.
The ‘face’ of gun rights has changed in Wisconsin. With well over half a *million* concealed carry licenses issued, the “gun vote” is the largest single-issue voting block in the state. Taking on these crime and safety issues by championing gun rights for urban and suburban voters coupled with the other 70-30 issues where the republican position is both the conservative and popular option is a path to turn
Wisconsin Red again for Republicans and avoiding the losing strategy of sinking to the center by playing “Democrat-Lite”.