Gov. Tony Evers is urging Republican lawmakers to act on a new so-called “red flag” bill that would seek to curb gun violence in Wisconsin, saying “the consequences of inaction are too high” for the issue not to move forward.
The legislation, which would allow family members or police to ask a court to take firearms from an individual who's considered dangerous, is the second gun-related bill Evers has pushed in recent weeks. Democrats last month called for a bill that would implement stricter background checks in the wake of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.
But in a Capitol announcement Thursday, Evers noted the Republican-controlled Legislature hasn’t yet acted on the universal background checks bill after it was unveiled Aug. 15, and he chided lawmakers for failing to move it forward.
“Each and every day officials choose cowardice over common sense," he said, adding: “That’s a choice that has consequences.”
Still, Evers again stopped short of calling a special session on the legislation, though even if he does, the Legislature isn't required to take up the bills, neither of which are likely to go anywhere this session.
But the governor pledged to call a special session "if (Republicans) don't act in the near future," or "within weeks" on the issue.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said in a joint statement they "believe this legislation poses threats to due process and the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens."
"Last year, Republicans passed $100 million in school safety grants," they said. "We’re continuing to work on finding bipartisan solutions by focusing on improvements in our mental health care system. We hope the suicide prevention task force will provide a template for ideas that can actually earn bipartisan support and become law."
Evers also said he would consider a mandatory gun buyback program for assault-style weapons, similar to what Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke is advocating for. GOP leaders seized on the comments as "unacceptable" and evidence of "just how radical Democrats have become."
Still, Evers noted his "focus is on" the "red flag" effort and background checks legislation.
Under the “red flag” bill, a family member, household member or police officer could petition the court to prevent an individual from possessing a gun. The court could then issue a temporary restraining order and injunction if it’s found the person is likely to injure themselves or someone else.
That injunction would be effective for up to one year, though it could also be extended via petition if the court finds the individual is still a risk for injuring themselves or someone else.
Bill authors Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, touted the urgency of passing the legislation, though they acknowledged the bills wouldn’t end gun violence.
“Red flag laws won’t do everything, but they will save lives,” Taylor said, adding later: “We cannot continue to just ignore this public health — what feels like — a crisis.”
Thursday’s announcement comes one year after a workplace shooting in Middleton that injured four people.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul also backs the “red flag” legislation, saying his top priority is public safety. He urged lawmakers to “end the inaction on this issue and to step up and finally address gun violence.”
The bill, he said, is an “additional tool” for families and law enforcement to intervene in certain situations.
It also builds on an existing law that allows for temporary restraining orders to be issued in cases involving threats of domestic violence, including the option in which an individual's firearms can be seized, Kaul noted.
Meanwhile, through the background checks bill, 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 "reasonable" exemptions, according to Evers, 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.