The Republican-controlled Senate and Assembly thwarted a Democratic call for debate over two proposed gun safety bills on November 7 by literally gaveling in and out of the special session called for by Governor Tony Evers.
After a series of horrific mass shootings across the country, Governor Tony Evers signed Executive Order #54 calling for a legislative Special Session on November 7, to address gun violence by strengthening background checks and enacting Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO).
“The press recently reviewed the excuses given by the Speaker and by the Majority Leader of the Senate, on why they don’t support these bills. And they deemed these reasons to be false. So not only are they not taking them up, their excuses for not doing so aren’t even true,” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz. “We expected endless games, because they’re not serious about policy or governing or public opinion. They’re serious about power politics and running roughshod over this institution – that’s been clear for a while now.”
Despite overwhelming public demand for the proposals, including the support of the majority of Wisconsin gun owners, Republicans ignored the will of the people and refused to bring the legislation up for a vote, or even allow discussions on either the Senate or Assembly floor.
“It is time for Republicans in the State Senate and the State Assembly to have the political courage to hold a debate about these issues. We’ve heard from the Majority Leader and the Speaker that their members don’t support this legislation. I say let’s find out why,” added Minority Leader Hintz. “But we have not held a vote on these issues, even though they’re supported by most Wisconsinites. We haven’t had a debate about them. And we haven’t had a hearing about them in this legislative session. So let’s have that debate, because this is about safe communities. Legislators are supposed to be here to represent their constituents. When it comes to this issue, they are not representing the majority of their constituents and it is time to take action. This problem isn’t just going to go away because the legislature ignores it.”
Under the first bill backed by Governor Evers, background checks would be expanded to private gun sales in Wisconsin, including sales at gun shows. The second bill, referred to as a red-flag law, would allow law enforcement to go through the due process of the court system to temporarily revoke an individual’s gun ownership rights, if they are determined to be a threat to themselves or others.
“Republicans essentially just told 80% of Wisconsinites and a majority of gun owners, ‘go jump in a lake,’ because they didn’t have the courage to take a vote, much less have a dialogue, on two bills about universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders that we know can save lives,” said Governor Evers. “And they did so at their own peril, because now Republicans have to go back to their districts and explain to their constituents why they refused to even do their jobs today.”
A Marquette poll published in August found that 80% of all individuals surveyed, regardless of political party, support making private sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks. Eighty-one percent also supported the red-flag law.
“The people of this state expect more of their elected officials and they deserve to know where each of those 132 members stand on these commonsense proposals. I urge you to meet in a special session, take this vote, and let the vote speak for itself. If you refuse the people of this state a vote on these proposals, you are once again denying the will of the people, circumventing the democratic process, and refusing to do your job as elected officials. It’s time to stop with the partisan games and political power grabs, and start listening to the people of this state and get to work on address[sic] gun violence in Wisconsin.” – Governor Tony Evers, November 7 letter to Leader Fitzgerald and Speaker Vos
A more recent Marquette poll from October broke those numbers into party affiliation. The findings showed that 72% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats support the expanded background checks, with 74% of Republicans and 89% of Democrats approving of the red-flag laws.
Before the State Legislators were scheduled to begin the special session, a coalition of gun safety groups and Democratic lawmakers held multiple news conferences, and a rally to add pressure on the GOP. But Republican legislative leaders in the Senate and Assembly immediately adjourn both houses without taking up the bills.
“We go to school every day wondering if we will be next. When lawmakers say they won’t even debate this issue, I’m being told that my life doesn’t matter, that my safety doesn’t matter,” said Karly Scholz, director of the Wisconsin chapter of March for Our Lives. “When the young people you refuse to protect turn 18, we will vote you out.
Democratic members of the state Senate convened in an empty Senate chamber at 2:00 p.m. to mark when Governor Evers called for the session to begin. They were led in prayer and held a moment of silence for victims of gun violence. In response to the neglect for public safety displayed by fellow lawmakers, many Democratic legislators released statements condemning the GOP leadership’s inaction.
“Gun violence is one of the most pressing public health issues we face today, and this special session is the legislature’s opportunity to take meaningful action. It is dangerous and irresponsible for Republicans to say, ‘There is nothing we can do.’ As legislators, we need to have the strength and courage to stand up for the lives lost from gun violence and the survivors that still grapple with the trauma they went through,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling. “For the first time in eight years, we have a Governor and Attorney General who are offering more than thoughts and prayers to end gun violence and support victims and their families. Let it be clear that what stands in the way of voting on commonsense gun safety issues are Republican politicians and their loyalty to the NRA. Every day that Republicans ignore this crisis is one more day closer to another tragedy.”