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Wisconsin Gun Control Laws

Gun control debates in the U.S. today often come down to differing views on the role of firearms in public safety. Although both sides claim safety as the main concern, they often take conflicting approaches to get there. 

Gun rights advocates claim that increases in gun ownership by law-abiding citizens empower people to deter or confront gun violence in public. Supporters of gun violence prevention efforts call for stricter gun laws to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals and those who misuse them. 

Wisconsin gun laws try to seek a balance that supports citizens' gun rights while keeping reasonable regulations in place.

In recent rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees individuals the right to bear arms for self-defense in both at home and in public. This has led to legal challenges to both old and new gun regulations. Staying on top of changes in the law, whether through legislation or court rulings, can be a tough task for gun owners and the general public alike.

Federal law applies to all 50 states. Most federal firearms law stems from the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NRA) and the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) as amended. These laws set up a regulatory framework for the legal manufacture, sale, possession, and use of firearms. Anyone purchasing a firearm from a federally licensed gun dealer must undergo a criminal background check. 

Federal law prevents certain persons from buying, owning, or possessing firearms. This includes convicted felons, those who use illegal drugs, and those who have misdemeanor convictions or restraining orders related to domestic abuse. In many circumstances, states can enact stricter laws in these areas.

Wisconsin Gun Laws at a Glance

Wisconsin, like all states, complies with federal firearms law. Wisconsin gun owners are subject to legal prohibitions set out in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which amended the GCA. Wisconsin also follows the National Firearms Act provisions related to certain dangerous weapons. In addition, Wisconsin also has its own gun laws.

State gun laws often restrict the type of guns people can own and where they can use them. Some states require universal background checks on all gun sales. Wisconsin only requires background checks on firearms purchased through dealers. 

Some states require a license or permit to carry a concealed handgun. Recently, several states have enacted permitless carry laws. Although Wisconsin does not have a permitless carry law, it does allow gun owners to carry firearms on their person without a permit at their homes, businesses, and on their land.

In most cases, Wisconsin requires you to be 18 years old or older to possess a firearm. There are exceptions for military personnel, minors engaged in target practice under the supervision of a parent, guardian, or other adult, and for hunting. 

Wisconsin allows open carry of firearms by those not prohibited from possessing them. State law also specifically prevents a person from facing charges of disorderly conduct under a local ordinance for loading, carrying, or going armed with a firearm, unless there is other evidence of criminal intent.

Wisconsin law requires a state license for the concealed carry of firearms in public under most circumstances. The law defines a weapon as a handgun, an electric weapon (tasers), or a billy club. To obtain a concealed carry weapon license, you must apply to the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ). 

State licenses are only issued to Wisconsin residents and active-duty members of the armed forces who reside in Wisconsin. The DOJ provides a helpful website. Its FAQ section provides information on the application process, issues of reciprocity with other states, and more.

Like other states, Wisconsin has areas where you cannot bring a firearm. Whether you open carry or conceal carry, avoid taking a firearm to these locations:

  • Police station, sheriff's office, state patrol station, or the office of a DOJ special agent
  • Prisons, jails, correctional facilities
  • Certain mental health facilities
  • The Wisconsin Resource Center
  • A county, state, or federal courthouse
  • A municipal courtroom if the court is in session
  • In any part of an airport past the security checkpoint
  • At your job, if the employer prohibits firearms
  • On private property or at a private business if the owner prohibits firearms

Certain places where firearms are banned provide exceptions for those with a valid CCW permit. These include:

  • A state wildlife refuge
  • A state fish hatchery
  • Buildings owned or leased by the state or a political subdivision like a city or county
  • Taverns, hotels, and restaurants unless the CCW permit holder consumes alcoholic beverages in these locations

Wisconsin Gun Control Laws Overview

The table below highlights the main provisions of Wisconsin's gun control laws.

Relevant Wisconsin Gun Control Statutes (Laws)

Chapter 175, Sections 175.35 through 175.60

Chapter 941, Sections 941.20 through 941.298

Chapter 948

Illegal Arms

The following firearms are illegal to possess in Wisconsin with only limited exceptions:

  • Short-barreled shotguns
  • Short-barreled rifles
  • Machine guns or fully automatic firearms

Waiting Period

Wisconsin does not have a specific waiting period for purchasing a gun. However, Wisconsin law requires federally licensed firearm dealers to complete a background check that may take up to five days.

Who Can't Own Guns?

Wisconsin law prohibits possession of a firearm for those who:

  • Have a felony conviction in Wisconsin or a conviction in another jurisdiction that would be a felony in Wisconsin
  • Have been adjudicated delinquent for an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult on or after April 21, 1994
  • Have been found not guilty of a felony in Wisconsin by reason of mental disease or defect, or found not guilty in another jurisdiction of a crime that would be a felony in Wisconsin by reason of insanity or mental disease, defect, or illness
  • Have been committed to treatment and ordered not to possess a firearm
  • Are subject to a mental health commitment and ordered not to possess a firearm
  • Are subject to an injunction or restraining order related to domestic abuse, child abuse, or certain tribal injunctions
  • Are subject to an injunction or restraining order for individuals at risk or related to harassment that prohibits possession of a firearm
  • Are prohibited under federal law (See 18 U.S.C. Section 922g)

License Required?

Wisconsin does not require a license to own a firearm.

Concealed Carry License Required?

Yes. A concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit or license is required to carry a concealed firearm in public.

Open Carried Allowed?

Open carry is legal in Wisconsin.

Eligibility for a Concealed Carry License

To be eligible for a CCW license in Wisconsin, you must:

  • 21 years of age or older
  • Be a resident of Wisconsin or be active military stationed in the state
  • Not be prohibited from possessing a firearm under state or federal law (see Wisconsin Statutes Section 941.29)
  • Not have a court order stating you cannot possess a dangerous weapon as a condition of bail or release in a criminal case
  • Provide proof of the firearms training required by the statute

Machine Gun Laws

With limited exceptions such as law enforcement officers, military personnel, and those used for scientific purposes, a person may not sell, possess, use, or transport any machine gun or other fully automatic firearm.

Penalties for Illegal Firearm Possession

  • Endangering safety by use of a dangerous weapon can be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to nine months in jail, a $10,000 fine, or both. Under some circumstances, this offense can become a felony.
  • Unlawful carrying of a concealed firearm is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to nine months in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
  • Unlawful carrying of a firearm in a public building or where alcoholic beverages are sold and consumed is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to nine months in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
  • Unlawful possession of a machine gun or a fully automatic firearm is a Class H felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. Modifying a firearm to make it a fully automatic firearm is a Class F felony, punishable by up to 12 years and six months in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both.
  • Unlawful possession of a short-barreled shotgun or short-barreled rifle is a Class H felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
  • Possessing a firearm when prohibited by law is a Class G felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both.
  • Unlawful straw purchase of a firearm is a Class G felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both.
  • Leaving or storing a loaded firearm within the reach or easy access of a child is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both. If the child has the firearm without permission of a parent or supervising adult and causes bodily harm to self or another, then the offense is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to nine months in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
  • Possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to nine months in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Penalties for Illegal Possession on or Near School Grounds

In Wisconsin, unlawful possession of a firearm on school grounds is a Class I felony, punishable by up to three years and six months in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. Unlawful discharging or attempting to discharge a firearm in a school zone is a Class G felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both.

Red Flag Law?

No. Wisconsin does not have a red flag law.

Universal Background Checks?

No. Wisconsin does not require a criminal background check for firearms transactions between private sellers and buyers.

Stand Your Ground Law?

No. Wisconsin has not adopted a Stand Your Ground law. However, it has an expanded version of the Castle Doctrine. In most circumstances, Wisconsin law permits the use of deadly force when a person unlawfully and forcibly enters your dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business while you are present. In such situations, if you are not engaged in a crime yourself, there is no duty to retreat.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of any state law(s) you are reviewing.

Wisconsin Gun Control Laws: Related Resources

You can also find more articles and resources on this topic in FindLaw's State Laws section. Here are some other useful links:

Need More Information on Wisconsin Gun Laws? Speak With an Attorney

Understanding federal and state firearms regulations can be difficult. Wisconsin statutes may differ from gun laws in neighboring states like Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. If you would like legal assistance to know your rights and responsibilities as a gun owner in Wisconsin, consider speaking with a Wisconsin attorney.

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