Guns on the bus are just privilege in disguise

A Wisconsin gun group celebrates its court victory with a disingenuous appeal to low-income transit riders.

A Wisconsin gun group celebrates its court victory with a disingenuous appeal to low-income transit riders.



Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in a 5-2 decision that Madison’s Metro Transit agency must allow passengers to carry guns on public buses. The justices decided that a city ordinance prohibiting guns on buses violates a 2011 state law, Act 35, which bars Wisconsin municipalities from implementing firearms policies that are more restrictive than the state law. In short, according to the state, you can tuck your gun away whenever you take the bus, no matter what the signs forbidding weapons on the bus say right now.

This ruling comes after a three-year battle led by Wisconsin Carry Inc., which set the lawsuit in motion in 2014 in response to Metro Transit’s refusal to alter their “no weapons allowed” policy to match Act 35. As Metro Transit prepares to adjust its policies to conform with last week’s ruling, the court has set a statewide precedent for other cities and towns with confusing and conflicting legislation around concealed-carry policies. Even in the wake of this ruling, the Metro Transit ban on weapons in bus shelters remains in place, to the obvious displeasure of Wisconsin Carry’s constituents.

But Wisconsin Carry’s statement on the ruling might throw one off over who exactly the group intended to serve with its lawsuit:

For many low-income individuals living in high-crime areas, mass transit is their only mode of transportation. Madison Metro Transit’s ban on lawful carry disproportionately disenfranchises low-income individuals from exercising their constitutional rights.

Individuals who rely on mass transit often begin and end their day with a ride on Madison Metro Buses. The ban on lawful carry therefore, results in those individuals being unable to have the means of self-defense, as they go about their daily lives, that Wisconsin’s Act 35 has extended to the people of Wisconsin.

So a pro-gun nonprofit advocacy group, lobbying a Republican-dominated Legislature, to extend concealed carry privileges to public transit systems statewide, is framing the case as a major victory for poor and under-served Wisconsinites? The next paragraph factors these very individuals into the gun lobby’s familiar “self-defense” rhetoric, citing Act 35 as a protection for all Wisconsin residents while implicating Metro Transit’s weapons ban as an act of systemic classism. Considering previous statements and blog posts from Wisconsin Carry—depicting guns as a means of protecting citizens from violence rather than causing violence with their presence—it’s an interesting spin on the victory.

Juxtapose the above with a post-verdict quote from Rep. Joel Kleefisch: “If the criminals know they’ll be the only ones on the buses with guns, they’re much more likely to bring a gun on a bus.”

While Rep. Kleefisch’s rhetoric feels more familiar—citing the difference between private and public buses, leaving the latter’s agency in the hands of the state—would he agree with Wisconsin Carry’s spin on the win when considering every member of the state from a low-income background who has access to a weapon?

But Wisconsin Carry’s rhetoric is often a lot less sympathetic to urbanites lower on the socioeconomic ladder. Let’s look at how the group frames uts pro-gun, pro-Wisconsin rhetoric around the “crime problem” in Milwaukee. Yet again, “the criminals” return to rear their ugly heads, and the only solution is to keep a gun by your side to neutralize the threat when they return to do their bidding. But which criminals are they speaking of, the ones toting their guns in public waiting to exploit the citizens? From this description, sounds like the very people they’re pandering to.

An example:

We the people should know which Milwaukee judges give such lenient sentences to violent criminals and put dangerous people on the streets where they harm and murder more innocent people. Why don’t we hold judges accountable when the criminals they fail to properly sentence kill innocent people?

Can a gun advocacy group be a progressive champion of low-income law-abiding carriers in one breath, while condemning “criminals” and “thugs” in the next? Can that same group indict Metro Transit in the disenfranchisement of individuals from marginalized backgrounds while exercising no careful consideration for the circumstances that placed those folks in situations to make decisions our society considers criminal? No matter the narrative of the common man’s victory in making the law follow the law, Wisconsin Carry’s efforts in preserving freedom attempt to stride for tomorrow, but fail to make the grade on consistency.

No matter the thinly-veiled prejudice of the actor, concealed carry is nowhere near a solution to crime, poverty, or inequality in Wisconsin. The idea that having a gun in every space will keep the world safe continues to hold on stubbornly in public discourse. As of now, a Madison resident can bring a gun on the bus, and Badgers may soon be able to bring weapons to class. And while absurd pro-gun policies like campus carry continue to pour in, so do bills and court decisions aimed at curbing the ability of local governments to make their own policies. 

In this case, the state ruled in favor of a group that envisions a world where the good guys with guns will have every opportunity to combat the criminal thugs of the world—even in the middle of a bus trip. This sets a precedent that may further endanger underserved residents statewide via the systemic oppression that strips them of dignity and empathy, and can very well strip them of life. Thus, it remains important to keep an eye on who’s pushing these policies and how they make their case. Whether driven by the party alignment of our legislators or the casual prejudice of an advocacy group, controversial decisions like these will always come at the cost of someone’s safety or someone’s body.

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