Op Ed

State Needs Republican Leadership on Guns

History is watching. Will Sen. Fitzgerald think beyond elections and consider what’s best for the state?

By - Aug 16th, 2019 10:13 am
Scott Fitzgerald. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Scott Fitzgerald. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

When having the chance for causal conversations with elected officials, I enjoy hearing how they view the role they serve to their constituents. Should they simply be a mirror of the majority view within their district, and vote according to the winds that blow? Or do they feel, given the responsibility of leadership, they should use facts and data to arrive at educated opinions, and vote accordingly, even if that means standing up for what runs counter to their constituent’s prevailing views?

That series of questions ran through my mind Wednesday while reading the Wisconsin State Journal‘s coverage of how the state legislature, controlled by Republicans, was dealing with gun control issues. The following paragraph rather leaped off the page and just demanded a response.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told reporters after a Wisconsin Manufacturing & Commerce event Tuesday he does not support expanding background checks to private sales, citing concerns over Second Amendment rights and how his Republican constituents would respond.

I understand the first reaction of an elected official, to any issue that arises, is to frame it through the next election. But the issue now at hand is mass shootings, and the need to find legislative measures that can reduce, even at the margins, the numbers of people who are killed or injured from gun violence. Fitzgerald was not being asked about education reform, a gas tax increase, or college tuition. He was being asked, as senate majority leader, what legislation might exist at the statehouse as an answer to state resident’s concerns about their personal safety regarding gun violence.

Lets give credit to Fitzgerald for candor when questioned by a reporter. When stating he gave weight to his Republican constituents, and by inference being leery to wade too far into the ways the legislature could block gun purchases, he underscored why it is so difficult for meaningful gun control bills to make any progress.

What this state needs are some Republicans who care more about facts and data regarding gun violence than they do about every election shadow that might emerge within their district.

Fitzgerald said he’s opposed to background checks and is concerned over the possibility of Wisconsinites having to register their guns.

“There is always going to be a constituency who vote Republican and (expanding background checks) means registering your firearm, and they are going to be opposed to it,” he said.

Even though Fitzgerald knows that a Marquette Law School Poll last year found 80% of voters supported expanded background checks he still uses partisan reasoning to deny that matter from coming to the floor for a vote. Let’s be clear and state no one should be able to buy a gun without passing a background check. But under current law, unlicensed sellers, such as those who peddle guns online, or at gun shows, or anywhere else without a federal dealer’s license, can sell a gun without having to run any background check. That runs counter to the best interests of the citizenry of this state.

Fitzgerald is a smart man, and a keen politician. He knows the data and facts about gun violence. But he feels constrained by partisan guardrails, and in so doing, has lost the meaning to the title of leader.

“It’s frustrating, I think, because every time one of these incidents happens, we kind of wring our hands and say ‘What can we do, what should we do?’” Fitzgerald said. “And we haven’t been able to come up with that yet.”

Reading his comment in the paper concerning an unwillingness to firmly grasp a problem, and apply needed remedies, makes not only the entire legislative process look diminished, but his role in that process appear weak. It is really a very sad comment to read, given the gravity of the gun problem which confronts us all.

I have a romanticized image in my mind of elderly former elected officials sitting with a grandchild who asks what was the thing they were most proud to have done while in office. All in that position would love to respond they were most proud to have been a leader. Someone who took a less-traveled path and found their voice on an issue which then resonated with the citizenry.

There is plenty of room within the GOP caucus for action now on gun issues to ensure that future conversations with grandchildren can be glowing. No one expects a dam of common sense to break open in either legislative chamber, but it would be nice if one Republican were to step forward, hear the concerns of the state, and act accordingly.

History will treat that elected official with respect. And who knows what one reasonable Republican voice could achieve. Someone should give it a try.

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gregory Humphrey writes for the Caffeinated Politics blog.

More about the Gun Violence

Read more about Gun Violence here

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