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Concealed-carry law triggers increased consumer interest in handguns

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
July 25, 2011
— Elkhorn resident Brad Zimmerman spent about 10 minutes at Dam Road Gun Shop looking over a Bersa .45-caliber “Thunder” handgun before he decided to buy it.

Zimmerman put a down payment on the $400 gun, an ultra-compact, semi-automatic model. He plans to pay the rest when he picks it up in a few weeks.


The gun could easily be concealed in a shoulder holster, but Zimmerman plans to use it for home protection instead. He said he bought it so he could begin using his other handgun, a smaller pistol, as his concealed-carry gun.


Wisconsin’s new concealed-carry law doesn’t go in effect until November, but Zimmerman believes he’s in the clear for a concealed-carry permit once it does.


“I’ve already went through hunter and gun safety classes and that. I don’t know how they’re going to work the law yet, but I’ll do whatever it takes,” Zimmerman said.


Zimmerman, who practices shooting once a week at a local hunt club, is among a flood of people who local gun shop owners say are gearing up for concealed carry.


Mike Palenske, who owns Dam Road Gun Shop, a small weapons supply shop on the outskirts of Delavan, said since Gov. Scott Walker signed the concealed-carry bill earlier this month, he’s had a spike in customers window shopping for handguns.


Dam Road employee Matt Ferrard said the shop’s seeing more women, married couples and elderly people than usual—all looking to outfit themselves with small, concealable pistols.


Many of those customers, he said, have never owned or fired a handgun.


They are checking out guns like the Smith and Wesson .380-caliber “Bodyguard,” a small, four-and-a-half-inch handgun that can fit snugly in a holster strapped to the small of your back. Or a .22-caliber “Magnum,” an ultra-tiny revolver made by North American Arms. The pistol, which costs $225, has a one-inch barrel. It fits in a pocket.


On one weekend day, Palenske said he sold five handguns. He said the phone has rung off the hook with customers who have questions on concealed-carry permits.


“They’re all asking, how do we get it (a concealed-carry permit)? What does it take? Everybody thinks since the law was signed, they can just get a permit,” Palenske said.


It doesn’t work that way, at least not yet.


Lawyers with the Wisconsin Department of Justice are working to decide permit requirements for concealed carry, and the law is not officially in effect until November. The Legislature will have to approve permit requirements.


Palenske said he’s been told the DOJ is building a website so people can apply for permits online. He said the process will take about three weeks and will require a background check.


He said gun shop and sporting goods stores likely won’t have paper forms available for the permits.


Currently, the law requires applicants for concealed carry to pass a course in hunter safety, firearms safety or firearms training. Courses would have to be taught by instructors with state or national certification.


It’s still not clear whether online gun safety classes will be permitted, although people with military, police or security training for firearms and those in organized shooting sports will likely be eligible for permits.


Palenske said area gun sellers have concerns about people who are buying handguns for the first time with plans to carry them concealed.


He said a hunter safety course might satisfy requirements for a concealed-carry permit, but it won’t necessarily teach legal responsibilities of carrying a concealed gun.


“The average person has no idea what’s in line for them if they end up using it (a concealed gun). You’re going to go to jail, and you better know a lawyer because you’re going to need one,” said Palenske.


Palenske said he’s telling anyone who plans to carry a concealed gun that he or she should practice firing it at a shooting range often, once a week if possible. That’s more shooting practice than some police officers get, he said.


“There’s no excuse for not knowing your own gun and how to handle it,” Palenske said. “If you buy a handgun and shoot it once a year, you won’t know how to handle it. That’s a problem.”



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