Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Republicans Will Oppose Gun Controls

There may be national outrage on the issue, but Gov. Walker and others oppose changes.

In late October, “Saturday Night Live” spoofed the second presidential debate, in which Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney fielded questions from a town hall audience. One question: “I was wondering what either of you would do to keep dangerous assault weapons such as AK-47s off the street?”

Mock Mitt answered first: “Ah, nothing.” Bogus Barack backed him up: “I would also do nothing.”

The exchange, a condensed take on the candidates’ actual noncommittal responses to a similar question, drew derisive laughter from the SNL crowd. The lack of political will on the issue of gun violence had become, in some people’s eyes, a national joke.

And then a gunman with an assault rifle murdered 26 people, mostly little children, at an elementary school in Connecticut. This atrocity, on top of other recent carnage, including two mass shootings in Wisconsin, is seen as opening the door to new gun laws.

“Timing is everything in politics and I think the timing is ripe right now,” says state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison. He favors a state ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, an end to allowing concealed weapons in the state Capitol and other public buildings, and closing the “loophole” that exempts gun shows and private dealers from running background checks.

The man who killed three people and wounded four others at a Brookfield spa in October could not legally buy a gun because his wife, one of his victims, had a domestic abuse restraining order against him. But he avoided a background check by going to a private seller.

A group of Democratic lawmakers has pledged to introduce new state gun controls. State Rep. Leon Young, D-Milwaukee, supports their cause.

“We just can’t continue on the same path,” says Young, a former Milwaukee police officer. “On a weekly basis in my district, people are being shot, people are being killed.”

But the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups remain powerful players. The NRA Political Victory Fund, a political action committee, has doled out $939,000 on Wisconsin political campaigns since mid-2008, state records show. This includes independent expenditures of nearly $168,000 in support of Walker, on top of a $10,000 direct contribution.

The NRA and Wisconsin Gun Owners Inc., a state-based group, also spent more than $200,000 on lobbying in 2011 alone.

Walker has declined to back new state bans on weapons or ammunition or tighter gun-sale rules. But he does want the state to consider arming school officials, with appropriate training — a stance similar to that of the NRA, which has called for armed guards at every school in America.

State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, a cosponsor of the state’s concealed carry law, enacted in 2011, doesn’t think the state’s guns laws will change — nor, in his view, should they.

“I think the type of people who introduce this legislation are the type of people who would vote for any anti-gun legislation over the last 10 years,” Grothman says. “They are just using this” — the Connecticut massacre — “as an excuse.”

Grothman argues that the nation’s murder rate has fallen over the past two decades, even though the number of guns has risen. He notes that Connecticut’s tougher gun laws didn’t keep the shooting from happening there, with legally acquired weapons. And he speculates that gun shows account for only “a tiny fraction” of illicit sales.

Jeri Bonavia of Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE), a nonprofit advocacy group, says such attitudes can’t withstand the rising tide of public support for modest and sensible new gun laws: “There is not going to be a tolerance for maintaining the status quo.”

That’s open to debate, but it does seem as though something has changed. When “Saturday Night Live” recently reran its show with the fake town hall debate, the exchange about gun control was edited out.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This story was a produced in collaboration with Wisconsin Public Television.

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.

3 thoughts on “Republicans Will Oppose Gun Controls”

  1. Michael A. Rakestraw says:

    The author of this article proved he was an uninformed idiot with the line “And then a gunman with an assault rifle murdered”

  2. judith moriarty says:

    Mr. Leuders: I am torn on this gun issue, but continue to read both in-depth articles and reminders about what’s going on in Wisconsin regarding gun control. Readers: the December 2012 The Atlantic magazine has a terrific look at both sides of the issue: check out “The Case For More Guns,” subtitled “and more gun controls.” Jeffrey Goldberg aimed straight down the middle.

  3. Bill Sweeney says:

    I took Ms Moriarty’s advice and looked at The Atlantic magazine. In addition to the article she mentions, there is another entitled More Guns, Less Crime: A Dialogue which is a conversation between Mr Goldberg and Ta-Nehisi Coates which is very interesting. Governor Walker and his republican colleagues liked to talk about “the courage” it took for them to take away collective bargaining rights and actual income from teachers and other public employees. However, it would take real courage to have and open and transparent discussion about the public health issue of gun violence. Not to do so is akin to refusing to pay attention to a flu epidemic. Regardless of whatever anyone thinks about it, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Second Amendment to say that Americans have a right to own a gun for self protection. So that is a given. However, in the same ruling they said that their decision did not preclude other reasonable gun regulations such as keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and those who have been committed for treatment for mental health problems. The quote below is from Mr Goldberg:
    “Here’s the way I think about this, in sum: The Left’s problem is that it denies the tragic reality that in gun-saturated America, a gun in the hands of a law-abiding, sane, and trained person can on occasion be effective in stopping violence, rather than escalating violence. The Right, on the other hand, denies that it has played an enormous part in creating and perpetuating the tragic reality of gun-saturated America, and denies that a sane society would regulate the number, and type, of guns in private hands; and most important, regulate just who gets a gun in the first place.”

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