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Ed Flynn, Milwaukee’s chief of police, had his suspicions about the role of the National Rifle Association in crafting Wisconsin’s concealed carry bill, enacted last year.

“It felt like an NRA bill. It looked like NRA bill,” Flynn says. “But it wasn’t until we tried to gin up bipartisan support for some common sense modifications that we realized it was in fact an NRA bill.”

Flynn’s moment of truth came when he contacted the office of a state senator — he won’t say who — and asked for changes to block habitual criminals, not just those with felony convictions, from getting permits. A key staffer gave him contact info for a national NRA lobbyist.

What the aide conveyed, Flynn says, was, “This is out of our hands. If you’re going to change this, we need to get permission.” From the NRA.

Flynn stresses that he supports gun ownership and even concealed carry, which was in place in other states he’s worked, albeit with stricter standards. He just wants to deny permits to people convicted of illegal firearms possession or who qualify as repeat offenders (three or more misdemeanors over the prior five years) under an existing state statute.

So he called the NRA lobbyist, Brent Gardner, and made his best case.

“I said, ‘Listen, I don’t care about the guy wearing a flannel shirt out in the ‘burbs driving around in his pickup truck,” Flynn recalls. “I care about career criminals carrying guns to shoot each other. I need help with that.”

Gardner, according to Flynn, politely explained the NRA’s view that only convicted felons should be denied permits and that illegal possession of firearms should not in itself be a felony. “He said no, and it went nowhere.” (Gardner did not respond to messages left at the NRA’s headquarters in Fairfax, Va.)

Wisconsin now has one of the nation’s most liberal concealed carry laws, which the NRA helped write. Since Jan. 1, 2011, the group has reported spending $108,083 on 678 hours of lobbying by Gardner and others in Wisconsin, while its political action committee invested more than $250,000 on state elections, including a $10,000 contribution to Gov. Scott Walker.

Another group, Wisconsin Gun Owners Inc., spent$164,558 on 1,055 hours of lobbying over this same period, which saw the passage of concealed carry and a state law expanding the right to use lethal force.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn says the gun lobby wields “an unconscionable amount of power.”

Flynn says the gun lobby wields “an unconscionable amount of power” over the political process. While he’s managed to persuade some of “my friends who tilt toward the left” that gun ownership be protected, including the right to carry concealed weapons, he sees no such movement from “my friends on the other side of the aisle.”

For them, “it’s a litmus test issue. It’s dogmatism. It’s liturgy. And no compromise is possible because the liturgy is dictated by the NRA, which, according to the polls I see doesn’t even speak for most legal gun owners.”

Wisconsin’s concealed carry law, Flynn contends, was “carefully written to prevent the police” from tracking whether concealed carry is contributing to a spike in crime. It forbids the public release of data on any permit holder “except in the context of a prosecution for an offense” where this is relevant.

That means the state Justice Department, which issues these permits, cannot legally disclose whether Wade Michael Page, the white supremacist who allegedly murdered six people Sunday in Oak Creek, was licensed to carry. Page’s prior convictions for impaired driving and criminal mischief, both misdemeanors, would not have disqualified him, even under the stricter standards urged by Flynn.

Flynn, surveying this terrain, plans to keep fighting for changes in the law, but without optimism. Asked about the recent shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin, he says, “I can’t conceive of a mass-casualty incident horrifying enough to give courage to state and federal lawmakers to enact common sense reforms. I think the fear is that great.”

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by the Open Society Institute. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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13 replies on “Top cop blames NRA for law’s failings”

  1. Let me get this straight. Chief Flynn needs more laws to keep the lawbreakers from being lawbreakers?

    Why not just make it illegal to be a ciminal and be done with it? That would be a common sense law, don’t you think Chief?

    It is any wonder why legislators do not take his ideas seriously? Mark Twain once said “it’s better people think you a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

  2. To imagine that Chief Flynn is pro-gun and pro-CCW is a stretch. Looking at how his dept has handled open-carry and his mandate to “take anyone down” that lawfully carried a weapon should be a clue. Add to that the fact that he is is not very willing to give back confiscated weapons to the law-abiding without a judge’s order is pretty strong evidence.

    The law is the law and Chief Flynn really needs to get over it. A person not convicted of a felony and who passes the other criteria for firearm ownership under state/federal constitutions does indeed have the right to apply for a concealed carry permit. That person will still have to pass muster under the NICS check.

    Here’s the bigger question. With 120,000 CCW permits already in existence within WI over the past 8 months, where is the problem? Chief Flynn seems very anxious to fix something that by all accounts does not appear to be broken. He argues for accountability (like the anti-gun bots over at WAVE) so that we know what the statistics are for CCW permit holders. Now, I am not quite as naive as him to imagine for one second that the Liberal WI press, the anti’s and Liberals that HATE personal freedoms haven’t been scouring every possible news outlet for “any” bit of information on the improper use of a CCW permit. Anyone else notice that the problems have been virtually nonexistent?

    Yet, Chief Flynn wants to fix something that isn’t proven to be broken? Is he just looking for excuses for his dismal crime-stopping record in Milwaukee?

    1. If he wants accountability & transparency, how about setting an example with his department? No more protecting cops who assault citizens. No more claiming “training issues” when cops break laws & endanger lives.

      Besides, why would he think that WI citizens would be much different (if at all) from citizens across the US? Other states with concealed carry laws have at _worst_ had no reduction in the rate of violent crime. Most of them show a dramatic, nearly instant, and ongoing increase in the safety of their citizens.

      1. I forgot to mention –
        Across the country, experience has shown that people with concealed carry licenses – normal everyday citizens – are on the whole MORE law-abiding than people employed as law enforcers.
        Also, citizens have about 1/5 the rate of wrongful shootings that police do.
        I think we should be more worried about police.

        And as Grant rightly points out, IF there were ever an incident involving a licensee, the press would be all over it. Look what they did with the Aldi’s incident (where a licensee stopped an armed robbery, saving the clerk who had a shotgun to her head).
        The reason there aren’t any reported is because there aren’t any incidents.

      2. According to the NRA, I bet, because they’re not biased, or in any way influenced by those who get rich from selling guns.

    2. Your exaggerations, lies, distortions, biases, and obvious paranoia greatly undermine your arguments.

  3. What Chief Flynn should be trying to get is D.A’s to stop plea bargaining criminals down from felonies to mister meaners and judge approving these plea bargains and enforce the laws we already have. Three mistermeaners and you get no permitt is unrealistic also. Your dog gets loose 3 times and no gun for you or three traffic tickets where is the common sense here.

    1. The word you want is “misdemeanor”.
      And you need to understand that (at least in WI) there are forfeitures (city dog ordinance, traffic ticket), misdemeanors (crime punishable by a fine &/or up to a year in jail), and felonies (crime punishable by a fine &/or up to life in jail).

      Also understand that when the phrase “common sense reforms” is used in connection with gun control, they really mean they want more of the same old failed policies that haven’t worked yet:
      licensing for carry
      training for carry
      waiting periods
      purchase limits

  4. The criminals/likely criminals seeking a permit seem to pale in comparison to the 99.99% who can get them off the street like a carton of milk – shouldn’t THAT be the focus? Even little kids/minors know this. With that said: CCW permits obtained by hard working citizens was long overdue. The reality of Milwaukee (and the world for that matter) has left people as sitting ducks for long enough- those days are gone and the criminals now at least have to always wonder: is this purse/car/home invasion worth my life?

    Not without regard to statistics of sexual assaults, child abductions, and missing persons…there will always be plenty for each of us to think about; the reality is that the police can only do so much – and I for one have zero intention of being a duck-sitting or not.

    1. Let’s just arm the little kids/minors. That will solve the problem. Or force everyone to carry a gun. Because more guns has meant an end to all the crimes in Milwaukee, hasn’t it? It has nothing to do with social problems–I know it, because the NRA said so.

  5. I’m surprised that someplace calling itself the “WI Center for Investigative Journalism” didn’t bother to, oh, say, investigate the claims put forth by the person they were interviewing, as well as doing some investigating to find out how unreliable & untrustworthy he is.

    “I can’t conceive of a mass-casualty incident horrifying enough to give courage to state and federal lawmakers to enact common sense reforms.”

    That’s really scary.
    I’d hope that after “enough” mass murders (VA Tech, Northern IL U, Columbine, Aurora, Oak Creek…) eventually even the most ignorant & anti-rights elected official would come to understand that disarming victims doesn’t make them safer,
    and making it harder for the good citizens to protect themselves doesn’t make them safer,

    But I don’t think these are the “common sense reforms” he had in mind.
    Whenever the phrase “common sense reforms” is used w/r/t gun control, it means more of the SOS that’s failed miserably so far. It means they want to try to make the US like England – no legal guns, skyrocketing rate of violent crime.

    If your elected officials want to make where you live more dangerous, don’t you think they should be out of a job?

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