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December 8, 2019

10/26/2019 7:30:00 AM
Legislators respond to Evers' call for special session focused on curbing gun violence
Dems say measures are common sense; GOP calls them gun confiscation

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

Gov. Tony Evers this week signed an executive order calling the state Legislature to meet in a special session on Nov. 7 to address gun violence in Wisconsin.

Evers said he was giving Republicans who control the state Legislature "an opportunity" to take action.

"Since taking office in January, I have called on the Legislature to take action and pass common-sense gun safety reform time and time again, giving Republican leadership the opportunity to hear the people of our state and to do the right thing," Evers said. "Today I am delivering on my promise to call a special session to address gun violence across our state and I'm calling on Republicans to work with Democrats to get this done."

The executive order urges the Legislature to act on two proposals that Evers says have widespread support: legislation to require universal background checks for all firearm purchases in the state, and legislation to create an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) process - otherwise known as red-flag laws - that would give family members and law enforcement officials the ability to seek temporary removal of firearms by a judge when they believe someone is at risk of harming themselves or others.

In the executive order, Evers calls gun violence a public health crisis, and claims that access to a firearm triples one's risk of death by suicide.

Of all state deaths by firearm from 2013 to 2017, 71% were suicide deaths, the order states, while the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500%.

Since 2005, the executive order continues, firearms have accounted for more domestic violence homicides than all other methods of killing combined, and 80% of Wisconsinites support universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders.

Democrats praise special session

As expected, Democratic lawmakers rallied around Evers's call for a special session.

State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) called the measures to be taken up common sense.

"Republican leaders are both on the wrong side of public opinion and the wrong side of history in addressing gun violence," Larson said. "Eighty percent of Wisconsinites favor universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders, and other states have passed similar legislation with clear results: fewer gun deaths."

Every day the Republican leadership chooses weakness over common sense, there are consequences, Larson said.

"And those consequences are felt by Moms like Debra Gillespie (who founded Mother's Against Gun Violence about 15 years ago after her son was killed) every day," he said. "The choice comes down to who your elected official will stand with: the public or the gun manufacturers. I hope, finally, that GOP leaders in the Legislature will listen to their constituents, listen to Moms like Debra, listen to their colleagues in the Legislature, listen to the governor, and listen to their conscience."

Common sense was also a talking point for Assembly assistant Democratic leader Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton).

"I commend the governor on his call to action and I stand ready to work with Republicans to pass this meaningful legislation," Hesselbein said. "Inaction cannot continue in the face of gun violence. Parents should not fear their children going to school and not coming home; people should be able to practice their faith without fear of being gunned down where they worship; everyone should be safe in their workplace or local stores without fear of violence."

State Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) echoed those words, and said gun violence plagues the state and nation, posing a threat to every neighborhood, school, and community.

"The first step to bipartisan action on this serious public safety concern is to heed the governor's special session call to enact common-sense laws that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals intent to do harm," she said.

An assault on the constitution

But Republican leaders begged to differ, characterizing the special session as an attack on the Second Amendment and Fourth Amendment, and saying Evers was attempting a gun grab.

Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the state Senate would not participate in such schemes.

"Liberals across the country are upping their rhetoric in support of taking guns from law-abiding citizens," Fitzgerald said. "After the governor opened the door to a long-term plan of gun confiscation at his press conference last month, it's easy to see how today's action could just be the first attack on the Second Amendment. The Senate will not be part of a drawn-out strategy to infringe on constitutional rights."

Assembly speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) underscored that attitude.

"A special session call will not change where my Assembly Republican colleagues and I stand on protecting the Second Amendment rights of Wisconsin citizens," Vos said. "As I have repeatedly said, we will not entertain proposals that infringe on our constitutional rights. Today's call is another indication that Gov. Evers stands ready to confiscate guns in our state."

Vos said Evers would rather score political points than effectively govern Wisconsin, where Vos said a vast majority want their Second Amendment rights protected.

"Assembly Republicans are committed to bringing people together by working on legislation that addresses important issues affecting the state including water quality, suicide prevention, homelessness and adoption," he said.

Rep. Treig E. Pronschinske (R-Mondovi) said he too was concerned about the special session.

"We should not be taking guns and rights away from law-abiding citizens," Pronschinske said. "This is a slippery slope and the Founding Fathers of this country saw this coming and made sure to make the Second Amendment as clear as possible that 'the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.'"

Pronschinske said the bill on universal background checks might sound great in theory and in polls, but there were many loopholes in the bill.

"They include gifting or inheriting guns to a family member, sale to law enforcement, or an armed service agency, including antique guns," he said. "If we are talking about having universal background checks and we are trying to stop people who maybe are not legally allowed to own a firearm, then these checks need to really be universal for everyone. These bills also fail to address the fact that if someone is desperate for a gun to inflict harm or other atrocities, they will find a way such as stealing one or perhaps even buying one on the black market."

Pronschinske said he agreed that gun violence is not a matter to take lightly.

"But we must ensure that we are not punishing or taking rights away from law-abiding citizens," he said. "It is the second right given under the Bill of Rights for a reason, because it protects all of our other rights. We should be teaching our children gun and hunter safety, and as a legislator, my colleagues and I will continue to invest in areas concerning mental health."

Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming "Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story" and can be reached at

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