Wisconsin proposes law to implement background checks on gun purchases but faces opposition
Governor Tony Evers and Democratic lawmakers proposed an expansion of background checks for gun sales in Wisconsin on August 15.
Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, Attorney General Josh Kaul, Representative Melissa Sargent, and Senator LaTonya Johnson attended the press conference with the Governor to call on Republicans who control the Legislature to pass the measure, even though GOP leaders have said they do not support such a move.
“We have to stop ignoring the problem of gun violence in our state and our country, and it’s time for our elected officials to find the courage to do what is right,” said Governor Evers at a news conference to announce the bill. “Addressing gun violence doesn’t have to be a false choice between the 2nd Amendment and keeping our kids and our communities safe. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, and a majority of Wisconsinites agree that no matter what kind of firearm is being purchased or where it’s being purchased from, the process should be the same.”
Only licensed gun dealers must conduct background checks when selling a firearm under the current law, which means that someone attempting to purchase a firearm can circumvent the background check process by purchasing a firearm from an unlicensed seller. LRB-3949 unifies the background check process under the Wisconsin DOJ for all firearm purchases, including requiring the Wisconsin DOJ to conduct background checks on frames and receivers.
“Gun violence is an issue that’s personal for me as a citizen and as an elected official. Growing up, I lost classmates and friends to gun violence, while experiencing the pain and grief it brings to entire neighborhoods,” said Lt. Governor Barnes. “During my time as a state legislator, I fought for common-sense gun laws that would keep Wisconsin safe. Now, as lieutenant governor, I support this legislation that will require background checks for those purchasing or transferring firearms. Only then will we have communities where every woman, man, and child have a chance to thrive.”
Under LRB-3949, firearm sales or transfers, including frames and receivers, must be made through a licensed firearms dealer, and a background check is required for all firearm purchases with some limited exceptions, including transfers to a family member by gift, bequest, or inheritance – if the family member is otherwise not prohibited from possessing a firearm, and any firearm classified as an antique by regulations of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
“This is commonsense firearm reform that is long overdue,” said Darryl Morin, President of Forward Latino. “From the recent hate-driven tragedies in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton to the attacks on our members of law enforcement in Philadelphia, to mass-shootings we suffered in Oak Creek and Brookfield, we must act now to prevent further loss of life.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said the state Justice Department currently conducts more than 100,000 background checks each year on handgun sales made through federally licensed firearms dealers.
“Background checks are conducted for the vast majority of firearm purchases in Wisconsin,” said Attorney General Kaul. “But because we don’t have universal background checks, people who are a danger to others—including people who have been convicted of a dangerous felony or are subject to a domestic violence restraining order—currently can buy a firearm without going through a background check. This legislation would change that—and make Wisconsin safer.”
Democrats pointed to a 2018 Marquette University Law School poll showing that more than 80% of respondents support a universal background check. Evers said Republicans oppose the idea “at their own risk at the polls.”
“This is not a controversial issue anywhere other than in this Capitol building. As elected officials, those we serve want to know that we are prioritizing the safety of their families. No parent should be afraid for their child’s life when they are walking down the street or in school, yet that is exactly what is happening. 90% of Americans support background checks for all gun sales. This bill is a common-sense start to a needed conversation about how we can protect our children and make our communities safer,” said Democratic Representative Melissa Sargent of Madison, who is sponsoring the bill along with Senator LaTonya Johnson, of Milwaukee.
Republicans have repeatedly said they have no interest in it. Governor Evers called on every Republican to take a stand on his proposal, which he said was a “reasonable and moderate step” to increase safety. He was joined by 16 Democratic lawmakers, Kaul, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, and Middleton Police Chief Charles Foulke.
“It’s time to stop waiting for permission from the NRA,” added Governor Evers. “Enough is enough, folks. This is a moderate proposal, folks. It’s time to be bipartisan and it’s time to lead. This is an issue that should transcend political parties.”