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More gun laws or better enforcement? Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson says he knows the answer

Curfew sign
Chuck Quirmbach
Shootings near Water St. in Milwaukee Friday night generated a curfew for people under 21.

The shootings that wounded 21 people in downtown Milwaukee a few nights ago are a stark reminder of gun violence in the area. There have been more than 80 homicide victims in Milwaukee this year — well above last year at this time, and nearly 90% of those people were shot to death.

How the homicide issue will play out in this fall's elections is hard to say. But in the Wisconsin U.S. Senate race, incumbent Republican Ron Johnson says guns are not the problem.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaks to the news media on May 14.
Maayan Silver
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaks to the news media on May 14.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson told news reporters after the 21 people had been shot that despite what Republicans sometimes contend, Milwaukee is hardly soft on crime.

"This is not a partisan thing. This is about lives. This is not partisan at all. We've had incidents across this state where people get shot by folks who should have not had guns, OK? In our city, we do our job. The police officers, they go out there, they catch the bad guys, they take the guns off the street. We don't control gun laws at the local level. I wish that we did, but we don't," Mayor Johnson said Saturday.

The wounding of 21 people, and homicide deaths of others in the city, come a few weeks after Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson invited news media to speak with him after he visited a gun show in Waukesha County. WUWM asked the Republican about the high number of homicides in Milwaukee, and national figures showing more kids are being shot to death.

Johnson replied: "You have criminals and you have shooters. OK? I don't know why the left always wants to blame the gun and absolve the criminal. I want to put the criminal in jail, and keep him in jail. I think that would probably be the better thing, in terms of a solution here. And whatever gun control laws we have, enforce them. We don't do that. We don't. We don't enforce the laws in place."

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 16: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to discuss election security and the 2020 election process on December 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Donald Trump continues to push baseless claims of voter fraud during the presidential election, which Krebs called the most secure in American history. (Photo by Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)
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Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)

Several of the Democrats running against Sen. Johnson this year have called for additional gun laws. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin last week declined to do an interview. But, in a written statement, a party spokesperson said, "Johnson continues to ignore the realities facing Wisconsinites, and instead is focused on pushing his self-serving agenda at Wisconsin's expense."

Jeri Bonavia of Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE) Educational Fund says Sen. Johnson's opposition to additional gun laws is out of touch with what polls show most people want.

"So, he is working against the interests of his constituents, whether they are gun owners or not, and instead standing with the gun lobby. Their interest is increasing the profits of the gun industry, not making sure the citizens including gun owners are safer in this state," Bonavia says.

Bonavia emphasizes her group is not making an endorsement in the Senate race.

But her concerns come as national experts on gun violence warn about the emergence of a newer type of firearm — ghost guns. Those are hard to trace weapons, privately assembled from parts or kits, even by individuals in homes. Garen Wintemute is a professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Califiornia-Davis. He says ghost guns are common in his state.

"Here in California, those guns account for 30% to 50% of all the firearms recovered by law enforcement agencies after use in a crime. And, it's only a matter of time before this wave catches on in other states, including in Wisconsin," Wintemute tells WUWM.

President Joe Biden this spring announced a tougher policy on ghost guns. When asked about that initiative, Sen. Johnson again pointed a finger at Democrats: "Until they actually get serious about enforcing laws, keeping criminals in jail, I'm not going to be worrying about new laws."

Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Buffalo Tuesday to grieve with the community that lost 10 lives in a mass shooting there on Saturday.

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