Led by Attorney General Josh Kaul, Wisconsin Democrats are reintroducing legislation to expand gun restrictions. Both bills are unlikely to be considered by the Republican-led Legislature, which has rejected them multiple times, but Democrats argue the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated their necessity.
Under one proposal, known as a "red-flag" law, family members or police could ask a judge to temporarily remove firearms from a person considered to be a danger to themselves or others. The other bill would expand background checks for most gun purchases, including those made online or at gun shows.
"There is more urgency now than there was even two years ago, because we have seen the impacts of the pandemic and we need action to make our communities safer now," Kaul said during a Thursday news conference. "We can’t wait for action."
Kaul, a Democrat up for reelection in 2022, contrasted the gun proposals with the ongoing Republican-led investigation into the 2020 presidential election.
"There’s $600,000 being spent on an investigation into conspiracy theories; there are hearings on conspiracy theories," Kaul said. "Let’s address real issues that Wisconsinites are actually facing and work to make communities safer."
Democratic lawmakers promoting the bills stressed their widespread public support.
In 2019, the last time the Marquette University Law School poll asked about it, 80% of Wisconsin voters supported requiring background checks for private sales and gun show sales, and 81% supported allowing the seizure of firearms from people found by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others.
Guyton was at a playground in 2014 when she was caught in the crossfire of a gunfight and shot in the head. Scott, who lived in Sun Prairie, was a passenger in a car in 2020 when she was struck by gunfire from another vehicle intended for the driver.
"The more closely impacted you are, the more (gun violence) becomes a matter of life or death, and not some symbolic policy debate in Madison or Washington, D.C.," said Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, who recalled attending Guyton's funeral.
Sens. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, and Melissa Agard, D-Madison, stressed that the bills seek to make communities safer while maintaining law-abiding citizens' right to possess firearms.
Wisconsin can honor its hunting heritage and individuals' rights and still take steps to address gun violence, Taylor said.
"It’s past time that we free ourselves of this fear and we create a safer state for our kids, our families and our neighbors to live in," Agard said.
Republicans, who hold majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, have never indicated an interest in either proposal.
When Gov. Tony Evers urged the Legislature to take up a red-flag bill in 2019, GOP leaders said they believed the legislation would pose "threats to due process and the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens."
In November 2019, Evers called a special session urging lawmakers to pass the red-flag bill and the bill expanding background checks.
GOP lawmakers in both chambers gaveled in and, within a minute, adjourned the special sessions without debating the proposals.
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