MADISON, Wis. -- The Republican lawmaker who presides over the state Assembly said Friday he's been carrying a concealed weapon during floor sessions.
Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer, of Waukesha, controls the chamber during debate. He presides over the chamber's procedures, is responsible for upholding decorum and can order spectators out of the chamber if he so chooses.
He told The Associated Press that he obtained permit No. 16,657 under Wisconsin's new concealed carry law. He said he's had the permit since before Thanksgiving and has carried a hidden Glock 26, a subcompact semi-automatic, on the Assembly floor at times.
He said he hopes he never has to use the gun, but he feels he needs it given the toxic atmosphere at the state Capitol, adding he's not the only lawmaker packing in the chamber.
"Have you been in the Capitol lately?" Kramer said. "The saying is you don't need a gun until you need it. I hope to go to my grave having never fired it at anything but a paper target."
Wisconsin became the 49th state to allow concealed weapons in November. Republicans who control the Assembly and Senate decided to allow lawmakers to carry hidden weapons on the floor. They banned concealed weapons in the Senate's overhead spectator galleries but chose to allow them in the Assembly's galleries.
The law took effect during a period of unprecedented tension in the state Capitol. Democrats and their allies still are fuming over Republican Gov. Scott Walker's contentious collective bargaining law, which stripped most public workers of nearly all their union rights.
Democrats have launched recall drives against Walker, Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four GOP senators, and a group of agitators still is making life miserable for Republican legislators, interrupting meetings and chasing them through the Capitol calling them names. One threw a beer on Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, in September.
Last week, protesters heckled Walker from the Assembly's galleries as the governor delivered his state-of-the-state speech in the chamber. The following night, Kramer ordered the galleries cleared during debate on a divisive mining permitting bill after protesters hung a banner over a railing and hurled profanities at lawmakers under the cover of mass coughs and throat-clearing.
Kramer said he's endured insults and threatening emails. He pointed to one message from November calling for Jesus to return and stab him with a flaming sword. Still, he said cat-calls, insults and profanities aren't enough to drive him to draw his gun. He said he would use it only if he felt like he was being personally threatened and was in "imminent danger."
"Otherwise it stays in the holster," he said.