State Leaders Divided Over Gun Laws
In the aftermath of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Democrats push for "red flag" laws, Republicans balk.
Wisconsin lawmakers and activists are clashing this week over potential changes to state gun laws in the wake of two mass shootings in Ohio and Texas over the weekend.
The killings have spurred renewed conversation about the role of state regulations in curbing gun violence, with state Democrats largely pushing for new restrictions while Republicans argue state laws are sufficient.
The conversation is happening as the state marks the seventh anniversary of a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek that killed six people.
Gov. Tony Evers on Monday called for lawmakers to take up new restrictions, including universal background checks and a so-called “red flag” law.
Proposals Include ‘Red Flag’ Law
Several states enacted “red flag” laws, also known as extreme risk protective orders, in the wake of the deadly attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. A number of reports following that shooting highlighted warning signs exhibited by the shooter.
Under such laws, law enforcement notified by family or friends can petition a judge to temporarily revoke someone’s right to buy, own or carry weapons.
Proponents of red flag legislation in Wisconsin say friends and family of potentially dangerous individuals should be able to act when they see early signs of potential violence.
Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, who is sponsoring the legislation, released a statement Monday saying the plan would help prevent mass shootings.
“Our children are dying. Our friends and neighbors are dying. At the grocery store. At the bar. At school. At the movies. At church,” Sargent said. “Although we cannot change the past, we must continue, today and every day, to fight like hell for the living.”
“It’s a policy we know would have an impact,” Bonavia said.
Other proposals pushed by the coalition include universal background checks for gun sales, which would require checks for online sales and transactions at gun shows, and a tax exemption for gun safes, which is aimed at encouraging more individuals to lock up their firearms at home.
Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, has also proposed a series of bills related to gun storage, including a plan that would require gun stores to lock up their wares after closing time.
In a statement released Tuesday, Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, criticized Republican lawmakers who control the state Legislature for their previous pushback on potential changes.
“People should feel safe in their communities, and yet the vast majority of Wisconsinites are currently represented by politicians who won’t even discuss the most basic steps that can be taken to protect the public and prevent these terrifying acts of violence,” Hintz said.
Republican Leaders Push Back On Changes
While GOP leaders of the state Legislature have expressed their sympathies for the shooting victims and their families this week, they are largely silent on proposed changes to state law.
“The events that took place this weekend were tragic. Hate and racism have no place in our country,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, in a prepared statement. “As we come back for the fall session, our caucus will have discussions around all newly proposed legislation like we always do.”
Fitzgerald’s office did not respond to questions about the senator’s position on proposals currently before the Legislature or other possible actions.
However, Fitzgerald indicated earlier this year the “red flag” proposal is unlikely to get support in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
“I don’t support the government intervening to take firearms from citizens without due process,” Fitzgerald told WPR in February. “Without seeing any specific legislation yet, I’m concerned that what I’ve seen discussed publicly has been too broad and could result in situations where that occurs.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, also did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday on current or future gun proposals in the Legislature.
However, Vos tweeted that he looks forward to meeting with Evers next week to talk about proposals.
“I will not entertain proposals to take away second amendment rights or due process,” he said. “Hopefully, we can find common ground on the real problem by addressing the mental health issues facing Wisconsin.”
Vos said earlier this year he could be open to supporting a red flag law, but that it would be need to be limited in scope.
Bonavia criticized the lawmakers for not moving quickly on state law changes this week.
According to a March 2018 Marquette University Law School poll, 81 percent of Wisconsin residents support background checks for gun purchases online and at gun shows. Polling wasn’t conducted by the group on other specific gun-related proposals, though a broad question about the efficacy of gun control measures found 43 percent of respondents thought the laws wouldn’t deter mass shootings.
“What we’re seeing playing out here are a group of legislators who are more responsive to the NRA, to a special interest group, than they are to their own constituents and to the needs of the citizens of Wisconsin,” Bonavia said.
In February 2018, Democratic lawmakers attempted to bring the background check proposal up for a vote in the state Assembly, but GOP lawmakers used procedural moves to avoid the vote and replaced the measure with a proposal to fund grants for schools to provide firearms to safety officers and crack down on so-called “straw purchasers” in Wisconsin.
Since 2011, the Republican-controlled Legislature has passed a number of bills softening restrictions on guns in Wisconsin. That includes repealing a 48-hour waiting period for gun sales in 2015 and approving the state’s concealed carry law in 2011.
State-based advocacy group Wisconsin Gun Owners, Inc., and a lobbyist for Wisconsin Firearm Owners did not respond to requests for comment about the status of Wisconsin gun laws and support or opposition of any changes.
State Gun Regulations Fall In Middle Of Pack
Wisconsin falls roughly in the middle of all 50 states in terms of gun restrictions and freedoms, according to a survey of national assessments.
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a national nonprofit that promotes stricter gun laws, ranks Wisconsin 18 out of all 50 states for the strength of its gun control measures.
The Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, ranks Wisconsin 15 out of all 50 states for freedoms related to gun ownership.
Aside from those partisan groups, a non-partisan, 2019 study from The BMJ, a peer-reviewed medical journal, placed Wisconsin among states with some of the most permissive gun laws in the country, but pegged it as one of the most restrictive states in that cluster.
Listen to the WPR report here.
In Wake Of Mass Shootings, Wisconsin Leaders Remain Divided Over Gun Laws was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.
More about the Gun Violence
- Op Ed: State Needs Republican Leadership on Guns - Gregory Humphrey - Aug 16th, 2019
- Rep. Gordon Hintz: Statement on Universal Background Checks - State Rep. Gordon Hintz - Aug 15th, 2019
- Evers, Democrats Unveil Background Checks Bill - Laurel White - Aug 15th, 2019
- The Time for Universal Background Checks is Now - State Sen. Jon Erpenbach - Aug 15th, 2019
- Hesselbein Supports Common Sense Background Checks - State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein - Aug 15th, 2019
- Representative Lisa Subeck Joins Governor Evers, Democratic Colleagues Introducing Universal Background Check Legislation - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Aug 15th, 2019
- Wisconsin Democrats Announce Universal Background Checks Bill, Call on Republicans to Act - Gov. Tony Evers - Aug 15th, 2019
- “I Don’t Have the Answer” to Mass Shootings - Laurel White - Aug 14th, 2019
- Survivor of Gun Violence Opposes the Death Penalty - Erik Gunn - Aug 10th, 2019
- Dem Lawmakers Push Bill to Tax Guns - Erik Gunn - Aug 9th, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Echoes Call to Action Against Gun Violence - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Aug 8th, 2019
- Rep. Anderson Introduces Legislation to Create a Statewide Fund for Victims of Gun Violence - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Aug 7th, 2019
- State Leaders Divided Over Gun Laws - Laurel White - Aug 7th, 2019
- Rep. Hintz: Statement on Gun Violence Prevention - State Rep. Gordon Hintz - Aug 6th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: About Those Good Guys With a Gun - Bruce Murphy - Jul 30th, 2019
- Representative Subeck Introduces “Safe Storage for Gun Safety” Package to Curb Gun Violence and Accidental Shootings - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Jul 26th, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Supports “Wear Orange” for Gun Violence Prevention - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Jun 7th, 2019
- Rep. Zamarripa Statement on Wear Orange Weekend - State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa - Jun 7th, 2019
- Op Ed: Suicides Up Since Gun Waiting Period Ended - Chris Walker - Apr 21st, 2019
- Representative Lisa Subeck Praises Federal Background Check Expansion Act Introduction - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Jan 9th, 2019
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Helps Introduce Background Check Expansion Act To Reduce Gun Violence - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Jan 9th, 2019
- Senator Larson & Representative Bowen: Call on Gun Manufacturers to Prioritize “Smart Gun” Technology and Other Gun Safety Measures in Order to Reduce Gun Violence - State Sen. Chris Larson - Sep 13th, 2018
- School Safety Grant Program Avoids Larger Issues of Gun Violence - State Sen. Chris Larson - Jul 24th, 2018
- Most School Shooters Get Their Guns at Home - State Rep. Terese Berceau - May 22nd, 2018
- Governor Walker Orders Flags to Half-Staff Following Tragedy in Santa Fe, Texas - Gov. Scott Walker - May 18th, 2018
- Bryce Releases Statement on Santa Fe High School Shooting - Randy Bryce - May 18th, 2018
- Why Student Activists Did 50 Mile March - Will Kenneally - Apr 20th, 2018
- Roys Marks 19th Anniversary of Columbine Shooting - Kelda Roys - Apr 20th, 2018
- Marchers Seek Gun Control - Margaret Cannon - Apr 5th, 2018
- Giffords Endorses Rebecca Dallet for Wisconsin Supreme Court Against Gun Lobby Backed Candidate - Rebecca Dallet - Mar 30th, 2018
- Mayor Tom Barrett Applauds Passage of Bill Prohibiting Straw Purchasing - Mayor Tom Barrett - Mar 28th, 2018
- Governor Walker Signs $100 Million School Safety Plan into Law - Gov. Scott Walker - Mar 26th, 2018
- Republicans Again Did Nothing to Address Gun Violence - State Sen. Chris Larson - Mar 20th, 2018
- School safety package is rushed, needs significant fixes - State Rep. David Bowen - Mar 20th, 2018
- Tom Palzewicz Releases Comprehensive Gun Safety Reform Plan - Tom Palzewicz - Mar 20th, 2018
- Dana Wachs Responds to Gov. Walker’s Short-Sighted School Safety Plan - State Rep. Dana Wachs - Mar 15th, 2018
- Gov. Walker fails to act on gun safety - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Mar 15th, 2018
- No Child Should Ever Feel Unsafe in School: Governor Walker Calls $100 million Special Session on School Safety - Gov. Scott Walker - Mar 15th, 2018
- I stand with our children - Ald. Chantia Lewis - Mar 14th, 2018
- National Walkout Day: I Sit in Solidarity with Students - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Mar 14th, 2018
- Youth Council measure urges support of National School Walkout Day and March for Our Lives - City of Milwaukee Youth Council - Mar 13th, 2018
- Mayor Tom Barrett, City Leaders Call For Gun Safety from Children - Mayor Tom Barrett - Mar 12th, 2018
- The State of Politics: School Safety Bill Renews Gun Debate - Steven Walters - Mar 12th, 2018
- The Intersection of Guns and Race - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Mar 8th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Cosponsors Critical School Safety Legislation - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 6th, 2018
- Representative Subeck Statement on Governor’s Comments on School Safety - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Mar 1st, 2018
- Roys calls on Walker to pass common sense gun reform during proposed special session on gun violence - Kelda Roys - Mar 1st, 2018
- Op Ed: Thoughtful Discussion Needed on Guns - Kyle Hagge - Mar 1st, 2018
- Guns, Grief and Grace - Elizabeth Baker - Feb 28th, 2018
- The time for action on gun violence is now - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Feb 28th, 2018
- The Contrarian: The Real “Gun Nuts” - George Mitchell - Feb 26th, 2018
- Did Michael Screnock Promise the NRA He Supports More Guns in Schools? - One Wisconsin Now - Feb 23rd, 2018
- Universal Background Checks Fail on Party Line in WI State Assembly - State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff - Feb 21st, 2018
- Bryce Calls on Speaker Ryan to Meet with Students from his District - Randy Bryce - Feb 21st, 2018
- Republicans block school shooting precautions - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Feb 20th, 2018
- Passage of Senate Bill 408 - State Sen. Chris Larson - Feb 20th, 2018
- Republican Bill Would Put Guns in Wisconsin Schools - One Wisconsin Now - Feb 19th, 2018
- Speaker Ryan Chooses Campaign Donors Over South Florida Teacher - Randy Bryce - Feb 17th, 2018
- Dana Wachs Calls for an Overhaul of Assault Weapon Laws and Other Measures to Fight Domestic Terrorism - State Rep. Dana Wachs - Feb 16th, 2018
- GOP Chair of State Assembly Committee on Education, School Principal Shares Article Romanticizing Guns in Schools in Aftermath of Florida Mass School Shooting - One Wisconsin Now - Feb 16th, 2018
- Data Wonk: The More Guns, Less Crime Scam - Bruce Thompson - Oct 18th, 2017
- Op Ed: 5 Ways to Reduce Gun Deaths - Patrick Dunphy - Oct 16th, 2017