Mayor Cavalier Johnson took a significant step to address the issue of domestic violence in Milwaukee, particularly its intersection with easy access to firearms, by signing Common Council Resolution 231169 on November 29 at City Hall.

The commonsense resolution directs city staff to seek a change in Wisconsin law, so that state residents convicted of disorderly conduct stemming from domestic violence are prohibited from possessing firearms.

“I’m asking that the folks who are domestic abusers don’t get access to guns, that they’re barred from possessing firearms – not just in the city of Milwaukee – but in the state of Wisconsin,” said Mayor Johnson. “With this resolution, the city of Milwaukee is formally joining the effort to solve this problem. This is not just an exercise and legislation. It’s not just an exercise and civics. We must never lose sight of the human toll of domestic violence. No matter what community we live in, we must not lose sight of that.”

A similar proposal at the state level was recently advanced by Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, State Senator Kelda Roys, and State Representative Lisa Subeck. That legislation seeks to ensure those convicted of violent offenses related to domestic violence are unable to legally purchase or possess firearms in Wisconsin.

The state bill reorganizes two statutes, the crime of disorderly conduct and the definition of domestic abuse, so that individuals convicted of disorderly conduct as a result of domestic violence are prohibited from possessing a firearm.

“One simple, common-sense way to prevent crime and keep Wisconsinites safe is to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who have committed a violent crime. Wisconsin law needs to be updated so that when individuals are convicted of disorderly conduct involving domestic violence, they will be prohibited from possessing firearms,” said Attorney General Kaul.

Milwaukee’s Resolution 231169 received unanimous approval from Common Council members. The November 29 signing event was attended by local officials, representatives from domestic violence prevention organizations, and survivors of abuse.

Representative Subeck’s legislation would close a loophole in state law preventing law enforcement from confiscating firearms from people convicted of disorderly conduct misdemeanors, stemming from domestic violence.

“People are surprised to learn that somebody who has been convicted of domestic abuse, whether a misdemeanor or a felony or otherwise, has access to guns,” said Representative Subeck. “They’re surprised to learn that we have a loophole in our state law. That means individuals who are convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct in a domestic violence incident still have access to that weapon.”

Wisconsin ranks eighth in the nation for the number of women killed by men. A total of 96 people in the state lost their lives to domestic violence in 2022, according to the newest Domestic Violence Homicide Report. According to the findings, a gun was used in 88.5% of domestic violence deaths.

Representative Subeck said the legislation was about saving lives, and keeping families in their communities safer. She serves as Chair of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, and has represented the 78th Assembly District since 2015.

“A victim of domestic violence is five times more likely to be killed if her abuser has access to a gun, yet a loophole in Wisconsin law allows perpetrators convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence continued access to firearms,” added Representative Subeck. “We can close this loophole by keeping guns out of the hands from dangerous individuals with a history of violent behavior.”

In 2022, the Conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court reviewed the Doubek v. Kaul case and decided that a conviction for disorderly conduct, or domestic violence, did not qualify as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence under federal law. Under the interpretation of the current law, individuals convicted of domestic violence-related misdemeanors may still legally possess firearms.

“This is exactly the type of commonsense gun reform voters across Wisconsin want to see,” said Darryl Morin, National President of Milwaukee-based Forward Latino. “Each month 70 women across the country are shot and killed by their intimate partner. So far this year, I have attended two funerals right here in Wisconsin, of young women who were shot and killed by their intimate partner. Wisconsin can do better. We must do better. Now is the time to act.”

Under federal law, a person is prohibited from possessing a firearm if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. Under state law, a person who is prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal or state law also may not purchase a firearm or be issued a license to carry a concealed weapon.

Milwaukee’s resolution emphasizes the concerning correlation between domestic violence and the accessibility of guns, a combination that often leads to tragic outcomes. It is also part of a broader initiative by the Milwaukee city government to combat domestic violence, which includes educational campaigns, support for victims, and stricter enforcement of existing laws regarding gun possession and use in domestic violence cases.

Community leaders, advocacy groups, and a bipartisan majority of the public have overwhelmingly approved of the move, seeing it as a positive step towards making Milwaukee a safer place for all its residents. However, it is also believed to be just the beginning, and that sustained efforts and resources are needed to make a lasting impact.

“Even though this is a complex and traumatic situation, that many people have to endure in the city, the state, and across the United States, this effort will save lives,” said Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. “And that’s at the core of the work that we do, trying to create the most peaceful city for all, where one does not have to worry about their home situation of trauma and can be in a safe environment. So that’s the message that we want to send.”

Alderwoman Dimitrijevic authored Resolution 231169, and said she was pleased to have it unanimously sponsored by all of her colleagues on the Common Council.

“I hope for anybody going through a situation where they are living in fear and wondering, what are things going to be like when they come home, that they understand there is help, they can find support,” added Alderwoman Dimitrijevic.

If you or someone you know has experienced domestic violence or sexual assault, these Milwaukee Agencies have resources that can help.

Sojourner also has been designated the 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline (414) 933-2722 for the City of Milwaukee and outlying communities since 1986. All calls are confidential.

If you are outside of the Milwaukee area, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline to find help near you. National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-SAFE (7233)

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Lee Matz