Political Report: Why Elections Matter--Wisconsin's Case in Point
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
We've often written in these pages that elections matter.
But often, it's too easy to look at that statement in the
abstract--in terms of inside-the-Beltway political maneuvering and
media spin. And that makes it too easy to forget that the outcome
of elections affects the freedom - and the lives - of real
Americans. This month, I'm going to tell you about one of those
No issue is more mainstream than exercising and
protecting the freedoms that make America unique in the history of
Meet Andres Vegas. Vegas, age 46, is an honest,
hard-working American. And on Jan. 4, 2007, he became a criminal
That night, Vegas was doing a dangerous job, but it's not
one you'll see highlighted on cable TV. He wasn't hunting
terrorists in the streets of Baghdad, fighting wildfires in the
mountains of Idaho or trapping crabs in the icy waters of Alaska.
In January, Andres Vegas was delivering pizzas in
Vegas knew this was dangerous work. In March 2005, he was
robbed. He began carrying a gun--the kind of affordable pocket
pistol that gun-ban activists demonize as a "junk gun." And in July
2006, he needed it. Two masked men tried to rob Vegas, and he drew
his gun and fired in self-defense, wounding an assailant and ending
After the attack, the district attorney declined to
prosecute Vegas for his act of self-defense--but the DA's office
did send him a letter to warn him about the legal risks of carrying
They sent him this letter because Wisconsin is one of only
two states in the country that still prohibit carrying a firearm
for lawful self-defense. The Wisconsin legislature has passed a
Right-to-Carry bill twice to change that. Each time, anti-gun Gov.
Jim Doyle has vetoed the bill, and the legislature has narrowly
failed to override the veto. A change in the governor's mansion, or
in just one or two seats of the state legislature, would have
changed Wisconsin's law--and Andres Vegas' life.
Vegas was attacked again after getting the DA's letter. In
September 2006, three men robbed him, beat him and pepper sprayed
him. He tried to run, and was punched and kicked again. This time,
following the DA's advice, he was unarmed.
You might think that would be enough for anyone, but Vegas
needed the work and refused to give in to Milwaukee's street
That brings us to January of this year. Vegas arrived at a
customer's address and--as an added precaution against
ambush--called the customer to come outside for the pizza. But when
Vegas got out of his car, he was approached--once again--by two
armed robbers. This time, Vegas fought back. He deflected one
robber's gun from his face, then drew his own pistol and shot an
attacker in the hip. The robbers ran, dropping a gun. Vegas secured
that gun and his own, and called the police.
This time, the Milwaukee DA's office didn't respect Vegas'
decision to defend himself. Although the self-defense issue was
clear, they charged him with carrying a concealed
But as we've seen, Andres Vegas isn't one to go down
without a fight. With the able assistance of Milwaukee lawyer Craig
Mastantuono--and, I'm proud to say, help from NRA-ILA's Office of
Legislative Counsel--Vegas moved to dismiss the concealed carry
Here's where another election comes in. Less than a decade
ago, in November 1998, Wisconsin voters--by a 3-1 margin--approved
an amendment to the state constitution, making clear that the
people of Wisconsin "have the right to keep and bear arms for
security, defense, hunting, recreation or any other lawful
Based on that provision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held
in a 2003 case that a person could raise a constitutional defense
against a concealed carry charge if the defendant's "interest in
concealing the weapon to facilitate exercise of his or her right to
keep and bear arms substantially outweigh[s] the State's interest
in enforcing the concealed weapons statute," and that "concealment
was the only reasonable means under the circumstances to exercise
his or her right to bear arms."
That's a tough standard, and leaves Wisconsin citizens
wondering where they stand. Frankly, there's no way to know in
advance how your "interests" will weigh in the scales of justice.
All a Wisconsin resident can do is roll the dice on the
That's what Andres Vegas did in January, and on Sept.
24--more than eight months after the attack--Judge Daniel A. Noonan
of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court dismissed the charge against
Vegas. In a forceful opinion, Judge Noonan said Vegas had
"demonstrated the requisite extraordinary circumstances" to justify
carrying a concealed handgun. In fact, given the high crime area
Vegas works in, the three previous attacks and Vegas' lawful
purchase of the handgun for protection, Judge Noonan said he was
"not convinced that there are any reasonable alternatives that
would have secured Vegas' safety."
Where does this leave other Wisconsin residents?
Unfortunately, because the court's decision only applies directly
to Vegas, it will leave many still guessing. What jobs are
dangerous enough to justify carrying a handgun? How many times does
a person need to be attacked before the government will recognize
his or her right to self-protection? And does a citizen need to
risk arrest to answer these questions?
While the decision is a step forward that may help
persuade more Wisconsin legislators to support Right-to-Carry, the
political lesson is clear. In 1998, Wisconsin voters amended their
constitution to protect the right to arms. Between now and 2010,
they need to work, with NRA's help, to elect a governor (and more
legislators) who will help them reap the full benefits of that
right. As all of us gear up for the 2008 presidential election, we
should remember that for honest citizens--like Andres Vegas--voting
can be a matter of life or death.