Evers Background Checks

Sen. LaTonya Johnson (left), Rep. Melissa Sargent, Gov. Tony Evers, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Middleton Police Chief Charles Foulke unveil a universal background check bill in the Capitol Thursday. 

Gov. Tony Evers and Democrats are calling on the Legislature to pass a bill aimed at implementing universal background checks for gun sales in the wake of two high-profile mass shootings earlier this month. 

But the push doesn’t include legislation on so-called “red flag” provisions to allow family members of police to ask a court to take firearms from an individual who's considered dangerous, an effort that Evers also backs. 

Evers also stopped short of convening a special session on the legislation, saying while it's "still an option," he's seeking to give the Legislature a bill to weigh in on first.  

“It’s time to stop waiting for permission from the NRA. Enough is enough for us. This is a moderate proposal, folks,” he said at a news conference in Madison Thursday, adding: “It’s way past the time to get something done to do what’s best for the people of Wisconsin.”

Evers last week called for the GOP-controlled Legislature to consider gun control measures after dozens were killed and more than 50 wounded in the shootings in Texas and Ohio earlier this month. The incidents were followed by the seventh anniversary of the Sikh Temple shooting, when a gunman killed six people in Oak Creek.

But Republican legislative leaders at the time didn’t embrace the push. And Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told conservative radio host Jay Weber Thursday morning ahead of the announcement he doesn't support universal background checks or a "red flag" law and said the measures “are not going to be effective.” 

Evers met with Vos, R-Rochester, on the issue Wednesday. Asked about the meeting, Evers called it "a private conversation." 

He added he believes the bill would “get many Republicans” as supporters. But those who oppose it, he said, “do it at their own risk in the polls.”

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, though, said in a statement that it's "disingenuous to suggest that requiring background checks on private sales would have prevented the tragedies we’ve seen as a state and nation."

"That’s why Assembly Republicans have been and remain committed to providing and expanding mental health resources to those in need – which has time and again been a root cause of many of these shootings," the Kaukauna Republican said. 

The office of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald referred to the Juneau Republican's remarks on Tuesday, where he said he wouldn't support universal background checks because that would mean for cases of personal sales between family members or friends, "people are not going to go for that."

Under the bill, co-authored by Democratic state Rep. Melissa Sargent, of Madison, and LaTonya Johnson, of Milwaukee, individuals wouldn’t be able to sell or transfer guns unless that process occurs through a federally licensed firearms dealer and includes a background check. 

Those found guilty of violating the provisions of the bill would be charged with a misdemeanor, be fined between $500 and $10,000, may be imprisoned for up to nine months and may not be able to possess a firearm for two years. 

The bill would apply to guns sold online or at gun shows and flea markets, but it also includes exemptions for firearms sold to a dealer, law enforcement or a member of the armed services, as well as guns transferred via gift or inheritance and those classified as antiques. 

Those exemptions, Evers said, are "reasonable," adding: "We want to make sure that we get something done and this is a moderate, moderate proposal."

Sargent noted with students across the state preparing to go back to school this fall, many parents are considering purchasing bulletproof backpacks for their kids. 

“That is not Wisconsin,” she said, later adding: “Our state cannot wait any longer, we cannot wait any longer to address gun violence in Wisconsin.”

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