He attended a news conference to help roll out so-called red-flag legislation, but, responding to a question, Gov. Tony Evers last week also said he was open to supporting mandatory gun buy-back programs called for by Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke.
Multiple Republican officials - most notably in the Northwoods Oneida County sheriff Grady Hartman and state Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) - criticized the governor's positions, with many saying he was supporting gun confiscation because of the mandatory nature of the buy-back concept, and further said they opposed red-flag laws because of their threat to due-process rights.
At the press conference, while he said he was open to the mandatory buy-back scheme, Evers said he was focused on the red-flag bills being introduced by Democratic lawmakers.
Evers joined attorney general Josh Kaul, Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison), and Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) to announce a bill creating an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) process that would enable families and law enforcement officers to seek temporary removal of firearms by a judge when they believe someone is at risk of harming themselves or others.
"It's time to listen to the will of the people who overwhelmingly want elected officials to start taking gun violence seriously for our kids, our communities, and our state," Evers said. "In a state where nearly three of four gun deaths are suicide, having an ERPO process could be an important tool in helping us address firearm-related suicides in Wisconsin, and to intervene to get folks in crisis the help and treatment they need."
However, Hartman said he has heard from many people who are concerned and angered by Evers's comments about red-flag laws and mandatory gun buybacks.
"I am adamantly opposed to both of these ideas and I don't see them having any impact on violent crime," Hartman said. "The vast majority of people in the Northwoods own firearms. We value our ability to go hunting, recreational shooting, and protecting ourselves, our families, and our homes."
What's more, the sheriff said, his department would not participate in any government effort to round up and confiscate firearms from people's homes.
"The sheriff's office will never go door-to-door to enforce a gun buyback or confiscation, at least for as long as I remain the sheriff," he said.
Tiffany, who is running for the Republican nomination to replace U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, also criticized Evers's buy-back program comments, calling them code for confiscation.
"Make no mistake about it, the phrase 'mandatory gun buybacks' is just liberal rhetoric for gun confiscation," Tiffany said. "My constituents sent me to Madison to uphold our constitution, and that includes the Second Amendment. They can be certain that I will not back down fighting to protect our right to defend ourselves. Under my watch, Gov. Evers's radical gun confiscation dreams will never become reality."
In a joint statement, Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) targeted the red-flag legislation and what they called its constitutional problems, but they also said Evers's other comments revealed what Democrats really want to do.
"It's widely known that we believe this legislation poses threats to due process and the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," the lawmakers said. "Today in a partial answer to a reporter's question Gov. Evers revealed Democrats' real agenda: taking away firearms that are lawfully owned, which is unacceptable. Wisconsin laws already say if you're a felon, you lose your right to own a gun."
With Evers considering confiscating firearms from law-abiding citizens, Fitzgerald and Vos said, it shows just how radical Democrats have become.
"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."
State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) said Evers's red flag bill follows the "guilty until proven innocent" model of justice, and he pointed to a provision in the bill that notice need not be given before issuing an order to seize firearms.
"No matter what the governor and Democrats claim, this is a direct violation of due process and the Fourth and Second Amendments," he said. "That should concern every citizen in this state."
Wanggaard also said Democrats acknowledge that their bill would be ineffective.
"As supporters admitted in their press conference, the proposed legislation would not stop gun violence or the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton," he said. "Instead of focusing on law-abiding citizens, and taking away their constitutional rights, supporters should focus on the causes of violence, and not the instrument of that violence."
Assembly majority leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) said Evers's firearm seizure ideas were a non-starter.
"This morning's candid comments from Gov. Evers only further illustrate that without a strong, Republican-led Legislature, the idea of involuntary seizure of firearms could easily become a reality in Wisconsin," Steineke said. "Make no mistake, no such proposal will be entertained as our Assembly Republican caucus remains committed to upholding Second Amendment rights and working to provide expanded mental health options for those in need."
Democrats say bill would save lives
Sargent, however, said her bill was badly needed.
"Everyone in our state deserves to live without the fear of gun violence, and without losing a loved one to suicide," Sargent said. "Yet, for far too many people here in Wisconsin, our lives continued to be touched by the tragedies of firearm-related deaths, and by fear. Our children are afraid to go back to school. As a society, we are afraid that any public place could be invaded by the sound of gunfire. This should not be the new normal, but it has become our sad reality."
Continued inaction is complacency, and red-flag laws are crucial for Wisconsin, Sargent said.
"Connecticut, for example, has seen a 14-percent reduction in firearm suicide rates after the implementation of ERPO legislation, while Indiana has seen a 7.5-percent reduction," she said. "Further, in states like Maryland, California, Florida, and others, ERPO laws have proven successful in preventing multiple cases of school violence and mass shooting incidences."
Sargent said the legislation should not be decided along party lines.
"Actors from the NRA, GOP lawmakers, and President Trump, to doctors, social workers, and business owners have shared that they recognize the merits of ERPO legislation," she said. "In addition, over 80 percent of Wisconsinites, including gun owners, have consistently supported ERPO laws. This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of saving lives. This is a matter of life and death."
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