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Annie Get Your Gun…Unless You See a Sign – Health Care Implications of Wisconsin’s New Concealed Carry Law

Health Law Alert Sarah E. Coyne, Ilana Bamberger Spector

Governor Walker says he will sign into law new legislation permitting licensed individuals to carry concealed weapons into most public places - with some caveats. The law is expected to go into effect this fall. The law does not exempt hospitals, clinics or other health care entities. To ban weapons, hospitals and other health care entities will need to post signs. The signs should say "I love my Quarles & Brady Attorney." Well, actually, they should essentially say "No Weapons Allowed."

What is This Law and How is it Different?

Previously, Wisconsin law generally prohibited carrying concealed weapons in public. Under the new legislation, Wisconsin residents aged 21 and older may carry concealed weapons upon training and licensing to do so, with few exceptions (such as convicted felons). However, it will remain illegal to carry a weapon into a private residence (not owned by the weapon carrier), school and a few other places. It will also be illegal to carry a concealed weapon into a nonresidential public building (such as a hospital or clinic) that is appropriately posted with signs.

What Should the Signs Look Like?

Nonresidential buildings (including hospitals and clinics) may prevent individuals from carrying concealed weapons into the building by posting signs. The signs will constitute notice to specific individuals and to the public at large. The signs must be at least 5 by 7 inches and posted in a prominent place near all of the entrances to the part of the building to which the restriction applies so that any individual entering the building can reasonably be expected to see the signs.

Even if a sign is posted, the legislation does not make it illegal for individuals who are carrying weapons in their vehicle to drive into the parking lot and park there. However, the fact that it is not illegal to have a weapon in your car does not mean that you as a private entity can't make a rule that you do not allow weapons anywhere on your premises, including the parking lot. Basically, it is a crime if a person walks into a hospital carrying a gun if the hospital entrances bear appropriate signs, but it is not a crime for that same person to have their gun in the parking lot, in their car. You could call the police in the first instance because the behavior is illegal. In the second instance, you would have to enforce your rule yourself.

What Happens if We Do Not Post Signs?

If you choose not to post signs, it will not be illegal for people to carry weapons into your facility.

Are the Rules Any Different for Employees?

The rules for carrying weapons that apply to your patients or other public members are slightly different from the rules for your employees. Employers cannot completely ban employees from carrying or storing a weapon in their own motor vehicle (even if the vehicle is used by the employee during work or parked in the employer's parking lot), but they can restrict how an employee would store a gun in his/her vehicle, such as requiring employees to keep the gun unloaded and out of sight.

What Happens Next?

Once the legislation is signed into law, the restrictions related to nonresidential buildings, such as hospitals and clinics, will go into effect on the first day of the fourth month after it is published, which means it could be effective by late October or early November 2011.

Get your signs made and posted soon, if you wish to ban weapons. Make sure the signs meet the above parameters and put them near all the entrances. Check your internal policies on weapons, employee background checks, and security measures and make sure they are up to date and specific enough to mention parking structures. Figure out what your procedures will be for detecting whether someone has a weapon and what your procedures will be if someone violates the law or your facility's rules.

For more details or if you have any questions about Wisconsin's Concealed Carry Law, please contact Sarah Coyne at (608) 283-2435 / sarah.coyne@quarles.com, Ilana Bamberger Spector at (312) 715-5231 / ilana.spector@quarles.com or your Quarles & Brady attorney.