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Wisconsin Democrats Push Gun Safety Legislation, GOP Leadership Unmoved

Stop Gun Violence Button
Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America
Buttons reading, Stop gun violence, sit on the ground at a gun reform rally at the Colorado State Capitol on March 28, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. Ten people, including a police officer, were killed in a shooting at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado.

After recent deadly shootings in Atlanta, Colorado and California, and gun violence that continues to plague cities around the country, including Milwaukee, Democrats are urging the Wisconsin Legislature to act on gun reform.

Gov. Tony Evers proposed gun safety measures in his biennial budget. Democrats, like state Senate Minority Vice-Chair Melissa Agard of Dane County, are asking Republicans to back them.

“Including expanding universal background checks on all gun sales, emergency protective restraining orders and grants to reduce all violence in our communities,” Agard said.

A bill establishing emergency protective restraining orders is also known as a “red flag law.” It sets up a process to strip firearms from people considered at risk of harming themselves or others.

In August 2019, 80% of likely voters queried in the Marquette Law School poll supported red flag laws and background checks.

Agard said people should not have to fear going to a grocery store, a place of worship or a playground. At a news conference Thursday, Agard said gun reform is a moral and fiscal imperative.

“Recent research has revealed that the annual cost of gun violence in the United States exceeds 229 billion with a B, billion dollars. This includes direct costs, such as hospitalizations for victims and incarceration costs for perpetrators. But it also includes in indirect costs, including victims’ quality of life, such as lost wages and the cost to government programs that supplement those with significant injuries,” she said.

Gun violence doesn’t just occur in mass shootings. As of Thursday, Milwaukee has had 24 homicides in 2021 so far — and nearly all of them were due to gun violence, according to Democratic state senator LaTonya Johnson. She added that last year, Milwaukee had 189 homicides and 700 non-fatal shootings. The Milwaukee Police Department confiscated more than 3000 guns.

Twenty-year-old Myles Laster, the son of Johnson’s friend, was one of the victims. At the Thursday news conference, Johnson read something Laster’s sister posted on Facebook the day after he was killed: "Yesterday me and my brother had lunch. He went to Wingstop. I don't even like that food, but I ate it anyways. We sat down, we talked. He left, and I left. I made it home, he didn't. Oh god.”

WUWM contacted a number of Republican lawmakers, asking for their response to the Democrats’ push for tougher gun laws. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos issued a statement.: “This is not a fiscal item that belongs in the budget. We will continue to stand with law abiding gun owners to protect their rights under the Second Amendment.”

Republicans have not taken up stand-alone gun legislation, and in 2019, they refused to act during a special session on gun measures.

The GOP-led Joint Finance Committee, which handles the biennial budget, will soon be hearing from leaders of state agencies. It will then hold four public hearings, including a virtual session on April 28 to get input from Wisconsin residents.