State lawmakers have introduced a pile of legislation over the last two days, with the goal of creating more gun regulations in Wisconsin.
These bills come a week and a half after Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted by a jury of all charges for shooting and killing two people and injuring a third during racial justice protests in Kenosha in summer 20-20.
One charge in the trial didn’t have the chance to head to the jury – a charge of possession of a dangerous weapon as a minor, which is a misdemeanor under Wisconsin law.
While there’s no dispute that Rittenhouse was carrying a semi-automatic rifle the same night he shot and killed two people, that charge was thrown out by the judge, after Rittenhouse’s defense team found an exception to the state law.
That exception centered on whether a rifle or shotgun has a long or short barrel. And the package of bills introduced by state lawmakers seeks to close that loophole.
Yesterday, a group of five state Democratic lawmakers introduced a package to clarify current gun laws.
They say the bills would merely clarify state law that creates a hunting exception for those who otherwise would be charged with possession of a deadly weapon.
Under Wisconsin law, minors (that’s those under 18) are generally prohibited from possessing a dangerous weapon. But, an exception allows a minor to possess a long gun or rifle if the barrel is longer than sixteen inches. The lawmakers say that while that exception was originally written to honor Wisconsin’s sporting heritage, after the Rittenhouse trial, more clarification was needed.
State representative Deb Andraca, of Whitefish bay, was one of the five lawmakers to author the bill.
“It’s a pretty straightforward piece of legislation. There has been a very famous case that has made it clear that there are some gaps in our gun laws, particularly when it comes to minors possessing guns. And we want to make it crystal clear that it is okay is certain circumstances for people to go hunting, but it is not okay to have guns (just) anywhere, particularly minors,” Andraca says.
Joining Andraca in introducing the bill are two state senators — Melissa Agard of Madison and Bob Wirch of Somers — and two state representatives — that’s Tod Ohnstad of Kenosha and Tip Mcguire of Kenosha. All five are Democrats.
The change would allow guns to be owned by minors only when quote “legally hunting.” Andraca says that means the exception only applies when hunters under the age of eighteen are to be out in specific areas during specific seasons with the proper firearm for hunting.
Senator Agard, of Madison, says that the bill will change the technicality that allowed Rittenhouse’s gun charge to be dropped, and will help ensure that it won’t happen again.
“We heard the judge’s interpretation of our state statutes and were very troubled by the interpretation of this judge, and certainly we want to make sure that we are making our communities as safe as possible and addressing what we believe to be a technical problem with our current laws, ”Agard says.
Meanwhile, a separate group of lawmakers introduced another package of gun-related bills today – this time aiming to introduce stricter requirements for storing guns.
The package, titled “Safe Storage for Gun Safety,” was originally introduced in 2017 by Democratic Representative Lisa Subeck of Madison, but failed to pass in the state Senate.
The package would require any business that sells firearms to lock and secure them when the business is closed, require gun owners to keep guns in a gun safe if they are living with a child, and make it a misdemeanor if someone leaves a firearm in an unattended and unlocked vehicle and the firearm is stolen.
The new package was re-introduced by Subeck, as well as Democratic Senators Chris Larson of Milwaukee, Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, Kelda Roys of Madison, and Democratic Representative Sue Conley of Janesville.
Senator Roys says that, even with the Republican led Legislature, she believes that the package will be passed.
“There are a lot of other gun safety proposals that we’ve put forth, but given a Republican legislature we know that the likelihood of, say, banning bump stocks, or enacting red flag laws, or other kinds of more robust gun safety measures are unlikely to pass. But this is a package of really common sense bills that I think even Republicans can look at and say ‘yeah, you are a firearm store, you should secure your weapons when you’re closed, so that somebody can’t just break in and carry away as many guns as they can steal.’ That’s the kind of common sense bills we’re proposing here in this package,” Roys says.
The goal of the package, Conley says, is to help teach people the proper ways to safely store their gun, and to help keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.
“The whole idea behind the package is to help people learn how to store their guns properly. And we have lots of cases of people who should not have access to firearms who do have access because firearms aren’t always stored properly. And so, the bill that I introduced, for example, if you’re going to leave a firearm in a vehicle, lock the vehicle. That way, it’s not easy for someone to steal a gun out of it. So all these bills are along that same line: let’s protect folks from firearm injury by preventing people from easy access to guns when they shouldn’t be able to have them,” Conley says.
Senator Larson says this package has been in the works for months. and is not a response to the Rittenhouse trial.
Both bills are currently circulating for co-sponsorship.