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Opinion | As firearms flood cities, lawmakers turn a blind eye

Opinion | As firearms flood cities, lawmakers turn a blind eye

Konopacki 10-13
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After examining hundreds of police ballistic documents, the Chicago Tribune produced an eye-opening two-part series last week tracing how guns used in the escalating violence plaguing the city's poor neighborhoods are getting to the city's streets in the first place.

One gun alone, the paper reported, was used in 27 different shootings in the city in little more than a month after it — a gang-favorite 9 mm Glock — and several other firearms were stolen during a break-in at a Superior, Wis., gun shop. The shootings not only killed two people, they severely injured two dozen more. The cost to society in everything from medical costs to the disruption of families is enormous, the paper pointed out.

Three other guns from the break-in at the Superior shop were also connected to 35 more shootings. The paper reported that the burglary at the Wisconsin shop was another episode in what police said is an established connection between Chicago and towns along the western tip of Lake Superior. Drugs often move north from Chicago, officials said, and sometimes firearms head south.

Police report that an inordinate number of guns confiscated in Chicago are traced back to Wisconsin and Indiana.

The paper emphasized that the federally licensed Wisconsin gun shop wasn't at fault. The burglars waited on a New Year's Eve until the local police were distracted by a fight at a local bar, and after failing to break through two doors, they finally found a way in to get through a third by using a crow bar. Once inside, smashing a glass showcase and gathering the guns in a cloth bag was easy.

But the series showed how difficult it is to get a handle on the proliferation of firearms in so many of the nation's largest cities, and now even here in Madison.

What's disturbing is that guns have now become so pervasive in the U.S. that they're being bartered by criminals who are finding them more valuable than actual money. Thousands are stolen every year and wind up in the hands of people who shouldn't have them. Stolen weapons in Wisconsin alone jumped from 97 in 2018 to 217 last year. The paper also noted that in 2019, 460 guns confiscated by Chicago law enforcement originated in Wisconsin.

One person interviewed by the Trib's reporters commented, "Gun violence in Chicago and opioid addiction in Superior and Duluth (Minn.) continue to rage."

The old timers among us would remark, what a sad state of affairs.

Yet this country refuses to do anything about that sad state of affairs — or to even try to do anything about it.

True, legislation like the bills introduced a couple of weeks ago by Attorney General Josh Kahl and several legislators to require more thorough background checks and allow courts to prevent mentally disturbed people from having guns wouldn't solve the Superior-to-Chicago fiasco. Nor would similar proposals by Gov. Tony Evers during his first year in office.

But at least they would represent a small step to keep weapons away from people who shouldn't have them.

Following the Tribune's stories detailing how gun shops are routinely burglarized, some members of Congress are eyeing legislation to require better security at gun shops: burglar alarms, for instance, or requiring shop owners to put the guns into a safe at closing time. It isn't just gun shops in Wisconsin that are routinely ransacked, it's happening all over the country.

Yet it's sure to meet resistance from the powerful gun lobby and members of Congress whose campaigns are financed by gun groups.

And the GOP majority in the Wisconsin Legislature will once again pigeonhole the modest attempt to adopt some gun safety measures in Wisconsin. Remember how they pulled a stunt to show Evers that they wouldn't even consider gun safety? They gaveled the opening of a special session Evers had called to consider the proposals and gaveled it closed in a matter of seconds, refusing even to talk about such laws.

Before the ink was dry on the latest Wisconsin proposals, gun fanatics’ knees jerked almost in unison — here come the liberals again, wanting to take our guns away.

Taking our guns away by making sure the person buying a Glock isn't a felon or undergoing mental treatment?

It will be interesting to see if these same legislative Republicans marshal the forces to kill one more gun safety bill, this one to ban the sale of so-called "bump stocks," the devices used to turn semi-automatic firearms into automatics.

Milwaukee state Sen. LaTonya Johnson and Madison Reps. Francesco Hong and Melissa Agard introduced the bill last week on the fourth anniversary of the Las Vegas hotel shooting that killed 60 concert goers in a park next to the hotel. The shooter's guns were equipped with bump stocks.

Chances are this, too, will be seen as a first step to taking "our guns away." Irrational? You could say so.

It's one of the reasons that there are an estimated 393 million guns in the U.S., ranking it No. 1 in firearms per capita.

So many guns that they're now being used as money.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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