Wisconsin would expand the number of data sources consulted in background checks for rifle and shotgun purchases under a measure approved Thursday by the state Assembly.
The legislation does not expand the number of factors that would disqualify a person from owning a gun, nor does it affect the regulation of private gun sales made by unlicensed dealers.
Under current law, 11 sources — including in-state and out-of-state criminal history and circuit court records — are checked through the state's Handgun Hotline for handgun purchases. For purchases of all other firerarms, only five sources are checked through the National Instant Criminal Background System, or NICS. The measure approved on Thursday would check all 11 sources for all firearm purchases for which background checks are required by the state.
The state's Handgun Hotline is operated by the state Department of Justice. The program processed 147,917 handgun purchase background checks last year, 1,325 of which resulted in denials. On average, all checks were completed in about four hours.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the proposal addresses "the real root of the problem" of school violence without infringing on anyone's legal right to own a gun.
"We are doing this to prevent criminals from getting guns," said Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Senate leaders are "not closing the door on coming back in extraordinary session, but no decisions will be made until senators can review everything/anything that the Assembly sends over to us today."
But a spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker gave no indication the governor would sign it.
"Governor Walker is focused on making our schools safe. Our plan will help our schools become safer from any threat, just as we made our airports and airplanes safer after 9/11," said Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg when asked whether Walker would support the proposal.
The measure — passed on a voice vote in the Assembly — comes after calls from students and Democratic lawmakers to implement universal background checks, raise the age limit for the purchase of some weapons, reinstate a 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases and ban devices that allow weapons to fire more quickly. Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said Republicans were "negligent" in their decision not to take up any of those proposals.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said he has no problem with the content of the proposal, but said it does not accomplish enough.
Hintz said the proposal misses the point of expanded background checks by not addressing sales arranged privately through classified ads or websites. Under federal law, a person must be federally licensed if he or she "engages in the business of dealing in firearms."
"It just shows you what cowards these guys are, that this was the best they could do," Hintz said of Assembly Republicans. "The reality is they did nothing."
The background check measure was passed along with a $100 million school safety package that focuses on building security upgrades and staff training. Walker called on lawmakers to approve new school safety policies earlier this month, after a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead.
The package would create an Office of School Safety within the state Department of Justice, charged with developing best practices for school safety plans and offer training and resources to schools. It would also ensure that schools share blueprints of their buildings with local law enforcement and implement additional requirements for school safety plans currently required under state law.
The Office of School Safety would administer a one-time $100 million grant program to fund building improvements, school resource officers and training opportunities. Any training offered through the Office of School Safety would include trauma-informed care practices.
Also under the school safety package, all mandatory reporters of child abuse would also be made mandatory reporters of threats of school violence.
Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, voted against the package, which she said "fail(s) to get even close to meaningfully addressing" gun violence. She accused Republicans of doing the "absolute bare minimum" to protect children.
Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, argued that the issue of gun violence cannot be fully addressed in one piece of legislation, and said the package passed on Thursday tackles the most pressing need of school security.
"We can debate whether something is enough or not enough, but it is a step," said Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls.
The school safety package, which passed the Assembly on a 78-8 vote, now awaits the governor's signature.