At a press conference before yesterday’s assembly floor session, Republican Majority Speaker Robin Vos said there’s little more to be done to prevent mass shootings, other than arresting perpetrators after the fact. Referring to the string of mass shootings in the past week, Vos doubted any further legislation would be effective.
“I have not seen exactly how in the circumstances that they described that the guns were obtained,” he said. “But if they were done lawfully, it seems like we already have a process and if someone chooses to break the law, there is very little that we can do besides arrest them after they’ve committed the act.”
When asked where the Republican caucus stood on expanding background checks, Vos replied that the current background check system already covers the vast majority of weapons. Vos expressed doubt that further changes to the background checks would provide safety.
“I have not seen data that shows that it is significantly safer. We already have the system in place where the vast majority of weapons already go through that background check process,” he said.
In fact, while background checks are required for federal dealers, the state does not require background checks for private gun sales. That includes sales between individuals, guns sold online, and guns sold at gun shows.
The top Republican leader’s statements come as a series of mass shootings in the past week have rekindled a national conversation on gun laws. The week’s shootings include eight killed in Atlanta, 10 killed in Colorado, and two killed here in Wisconsin at a Roundy’s Distribution Center in Oconomowoc.
Meanwhile, State Democrats are asking for legislation they say can prevent mass shootings. Yesterday, Democratic Senator Melissa Agard of Madison called her colleagues to require background checks in more instances. The Senator said mass shootings must be treated as domestic terrorism and a national crisis.
“This is an epidemic,” she said. “It’s a public health crisis and it has to stop. It’s time to get serious about creating real, life-saving gun reform policies right now.”
But the Republicans in the Wisconsin State legislature have long signaled they will refuse to pass Democrat’s proposals.
Back in 2019, Governor Evers called a special session for the legislature to consider bills on gun laws. The session was to focus on two bills proposed by Democratic lawmakers.
One bill would have expanded the types of gun sales that could receive background checks. Under state law, gun purchases by private sales and sales at gun shows aren’t subject to background checks.
Another bill would have created what’s called an extreme risk protection order, also known as a red flag law. It would let law enforcement take away guns from people who have been found to be a risk to themselves or others.
At the announcement of the special session, Evers called for Republicans to work with Democrats to pass the bills.
“These are common sense solutions that we know can save lives because they have already done so in states that have adopted them,” he said. “It’s that simple. Two bills that we know without a doubt, without ambiguity, this is what the majority of the people want.”
A Marquette Law School poll released at the time in 2019 found wide approval for both measures – even among gun-owners.
Of those who have a gun in their household, 81% support red flag laws and 75% support universal background checks. Among people who don’t own guns, support for both measures was even higher, at 88% support for background checks and 86% support for red flag laws.
The bills were never passed by the Republican controlled legislature. And Evers special session was ended in abrupt fashion. The Assembly spent just 15 seconds in that special session, while the Senate session lasted only 30 seconds.
During regular session that same day, Speaker Vos questioned the validity of the polling numbers while arguing against the bills.
“So if we now run our entire political system by polls taken by somebody else, that’s not what I thought a republic actually was,” he said.
Since mid 2019, mass shootings have only increased in Wisconsin. Wisconsin reported 10 mass shootings in 2020, up from three in 2019. Those shootings in 2020 left e11 dead and injured 42. That includes the two deadliest shootings, with six killed in a February shooting at the Milwaukee campus of Molson Coors, and eight killed in November at Mayfair mall.
The past week’s shootings have brought Democratic lawmakers to bring back calls for gun control legislation, as well as criticize Republicans for what they call a lack of action.
Last week Wednesday, Madison Representative Francesca Hong criticized Republicans for their priorities. This came before a vote to honor conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, which passed on party lines. Hong connected Limbaugh’s hateful rhetoric to the shootings in Georgia, and called on her Republican colleagues to choose action over solidarity and statements.
“We need solutions. Let’s work together as policymakers and start fixing things instead of passing resolutions to honor a man that stoked hate,” she said.
While the future of gun laws in the State is unclear, calls at the Democrat controlled federal level are increasing. Yesterday, President Joe Biden pushed Congress to create laws for gun control legislation, including universal background checks and an assault weapons ban. And White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the President is considering executive action on gun control.