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Tony Evers announces background checks bill

Gov. Tony Evers, right, recently announced a bill that would expand background checks to most private gun sales in the state. On Friday he said he would call a special session to address gun violence if Republicans don't act.

Gov. Tony Evers on Friday said he’ll call a special session of the Legislature in “a handful of weeks” to take up gun-control legislation if Republican lawmakers don’t act on the measure themselves.

The comments, which come nearly a month after dual mass shootings in Ohio and Texas that left at least 31 people dead, could be used to force Republican lawmakers opposed to additional gun-control measures to at least consider the legislation in a formal manner.

It’s unlikely, however, that the move will prompt Republicans to actually pass any legislation.

“It’s going to be a matter of time,” Evers said. “If we come to the conclusion that the Republicans aren’t going to come in to session and do something proactive such as something that 80% of the people of Wisconsin want — that’s universal background checks — we will have a special session.”

A transcript of Evers’ remarks, made at an event at UW-Milwaukee Friday, were provided to the Wisconsin State Journal by the governor’s office.

In a special session, the governor calls the Legislature into session and designates what bills the governor wants the Legislature to work on. It was a move former Republican Gov. Scott Walker made after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in 2018 to prompt the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass a $100 million school safety package.

While lawmakers under this scenario may have to meet, they do not have to pass any legislation, so the impact of such a move is limited.

Evers and Democrats earlier this month pushed for expanded background checks as well as red-flag laws, otherwise known as extreme risk protection orders, which can require people perceived to be threats to surrender their firearms.

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Evers and Democrats in August unveiled a universal background check bill that would expand background checks to most private gun sales in the state.

Wisconsin does not require private sellers to conduct a background check when transferring a firearm. Under the bill, most gun sales would go through a licensed gun dealer, which currently must contact the state Department of Justice to conduct a background check to sell a handgun, and the FBI to sell a long gun.

Democrats have not introduced any legislation that would create a red-flag law.

Republicans are unlikely to pass Evers’ proposed legislation.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, earlier this month said he is opposed to passing any measures “taking away people’s constitutional rights with very dubious reasons and very limited, if any, real effective results.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he does not support expanding background checks to private sales, but would consider expanding a law currently on the books that prohibits the possession of a firearm for those enjoined under a restraining order or injunction for domestic abuse, child abuse, harassment or elder abuse. In 2014, the state created a process for the surrender of firearms under that law.

On Friday, a Fitzgerald spokesman declined comment. A Vos spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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