Wisconsin’s Democratic lawmakers reintroduced a series of state gun control measures on June 12 aimed at expanding background checks, implementing a red flag law, and providing tax exemptions for gun safes.

The bills were previously introduced but removed from Governor Tony Evers’ budget proposal. They face an uphill battle due to opposition from Republican lawmakers, who have historically opposed such common-sense legislation and prefer to ignore the massive public support for it.

With gun sales at an all-time high, and military-grade firearms in more places than ever before, Wisconsin can expect to see a spike of gun violence during the hot summer months.

“We have introduced these three pieces of gun safety legislation before, but times have changed and unfortunately they have not changed for the better,” said State Representative Deb Andraca, a co-sponsor of the measures. “Gun violence is at record highs. Wisconsin urgently needs a gun safe summer. And that starts with giving these bills a public hearing.”

To help ensure the safety of every Wisconsin community, Democratic lawmakers and Attorney General Kaul are calling for public hearings on the three bills concerning the safety provisions removed from the budget by the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee.

“We need to change the status quo to make Wisconsinites safer from violent crime,” said Attorney General Josh Kaul. “While there is no simple solution to gun violence, we must move forward with common-sense policies like universal background checks that can help keep firearms out of the hands of people who’ve been shown to be dangerous.”

Attorney General Kaul criticized the Republicans for blocking meaningful gun safety measures, stressing the need for legislative action to address the unacceptable status quo of gun violence in Wisconsin and the country.

The legislative proposals were presented on the Assembly Floor of the State Capitol. The bills circulated for co-sponsorship included: LRB 0110/1: Requiring background checks on every gun sale, LRB 2727/1: Establishing an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), and LRB 3503/1: Safe Storage Incentive Bill.

“These laws are in place in Red and Blue states and have withstood legal challenges,” said Representative Andraca. “If Republicans disagree with a majority of Wisconsin voters, they have the power to vote these common-sense bills down in committee. It’s just unacceptable to stand by and do nothing – especially when summer is here and lives are at stake.”

The first bill seeks to close what Democrats view as a dangerous loophole by requiring background checks for all firearm purchases in Wisconsin. The aim is to address the lack of review for individuals who buy firearms through private sales, online vendors, or at gun shows.

The second bill proposes the implementation of a red flag law, also known as an Extreme Risk Protection Order. This law would enable law enforcement, family members, and household members to request a court order to temporarily seize firearms from individuals deemed to pose a risk. Red flag laws enjoy significant support among the public, with an overwhelming 81% of Wisconsinites favoring their implementation.

The third bill focuses on incentivizing responsible gun ownership. It suggests a tax exemption on the sale of gun safes, trigger locks, and gun barrel locks. Supporters argue that using these safety measures is a simple and sensible way for responsible gun owners to prevent their firearms from being used in crimes or accidentally accessed by children.

“When my Republican colleagues on the Joint Finance Committee removed gun safety provisions from the state budget, their excuse was that these were non-fiscal items,” said State Senator LaTonya Johnson. “We’ve heard from physicians, nurses, and public health professionals about the profound impact of gun violence on our community’s health, particularly on our children. If we can’t discuss these lifesaving measures as part of the state budget, then let’s give these proposals the public hearing they deserve.”

The bills being circulated today are overwhelmingly popular with Wisconsin voters. In fact, the latest Marquette poll found 83% of gun households and 88% of non-gun households support Extreme Risk Protection Orders. An April Fox News Poll showed 87% support background checks on all gun sales and 80% support for ERPO laws. The deadline for co-sponsorship for all three proposals is June 21, and we welcome our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to sign on in support.

”Background checks are a crucial part of comprehensive gun violence prevention and are foundational for safe gun ownership.” added State Representative Sheila Stubbs. “Background checks must be respected as a necessary part of gun sales. I urge support of this critical legislation so that we can build a safer Wisconsin.”

No immediate response was received from Republican leaders in the Legislature regarding these proposed gun control measures. In previous legislative sessions, Democrats introduced numerous gun control bills, but all failed to pass.

“In Wisconsin, it is often easier to buy a gun than it is to adopt a puppy. Anyone can buy a gun from a private seller without a background check,” added Representative Andraca. “Hundreds of unsecured guns are stolen out of homes and cars each year. It should come as no surprise that sometimes those guns can fall into the wrong hands, posing a danger to our communities.”

Wisconsin has witnessed at least 45 mass shootings since January 2019, as reported by the Gun Violence Archive. Recent data also shows that gun violence was not limited to large urban areas, and was happening in every community across the state.

Gun violence is always personal. The first question every survivor asks, whether it be a gunshot victim that survived, or a family member that has lost a loved one is, why hasn’t someone done something about this already?” said Darryl Morin, National President of Forward Latino. “Too many times, I have met with family members who wished they had done something before it was too late. So, I want to dispel two myths around the issue of gun violence.”

Myth 1: My community is safe and gun violence is only occurring in Milwaukee and other big cities.

Morin said that while there were issues that must be addressed in urban communities, the majority of gun deaths in Wisconsin occur outside of Milwaukee, and are occurring every day all across Wisconsin. Many people do not realize this, as it is often not reported in the news out of respect for the families of the deceased.

Using data from the CDC, the 12 deadliest counties in Wisconsin per capita, as it relates to gun deaths, are:

01. Milwaukee County
02. Barron County
03. Oconto County

04. Marinette County
05. Sauk County
06. Monroe County

07. Chippewa County
08. Polk County
09. Waupaca County

10. Kenosha County
11. Racine County
12. Douglas County

Myth 2: Gun violence is all about crime and minority communities.

According to Morin’s research, the greatest number of gun deaths in Wisconsin were not from crime, but from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, from suicide. Per the CDC, 65% of all gun deaths in Wisconsin are from suicide and that they are occurring in every congressional district, county and community across the state. The demographic group with the highest gun suicide rate, and by a considerable margin, was White Wisconsinites.

Democrats have introduced at least 30 gun control or gun safety measures in recent years, including bans on untraceable “ghost guns.” However, those bills have failed to pass the Legislature.

While Democrats advocate for stricter gun control, Republican legislators have proposed bills aimed at relaxing gun restrictions, including a proposal allowing licensed school employees to carry concealed firearms on school grounds.

Governor Evers expressed his determination to address gun violence. However, Republican-controlled committees removed those measures from the budget proposal. The political divide on gun control issues remains a significant challenge to enacting comprehensive reforms.

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Lee Matz