State Senate gavels in, gavels out special session on gun bills

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (WBAY file photo)
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV/AP) - State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald banged the gavel to begin a special session to discuss gun legislation -- and immediately banged the gavel again to adjourn. Our sister station in Madison, WMTV, says the session lasted about a minute. The Senate chamber was mostly empty.

The Associated Press quoted Fitzgerald saying, "I’ve said all along that the Senate would not go along with the governor’s plans for this special session."

The Assembly did the same -- convening and adjourning the special session in just 10 seconds -- after passing a series of bills on suicide prevention.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is demanding Republican legislators vote on a pair of bills restricting firearm ownership, but Wisconsin's constitution only gives him the power to call a special session; he can't make lawmakers hold a vote or even debate them.

"Republicans essentially just told 80 percent of Wisconsinites and a majority of gun owners ‘go jump in a lake,'" Evers wrote in a statement Thursday night, "because they didn’t have the courage to take a vote—much less have a dialogue—on two bills about universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders that we know can save lives. And they did so at their own peril because now Republicans have to go back to their districts and explain to their constituents why they refused to even do their jobs today."

Evers last month ordered a special session to take up bills mandating universal background checks and allowing judges to temporarily seize guns from people who pose a threat.

Gun control advocates rallied in Madison ahead of a special legislative session on gun restrictions that was expected to go nowhere.

Groups including Moms Demand Action, Doctors for America and the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee will hold news conferences and rally at the state Capitol ahead of the session.

"I hope Sen. Fitzgerald will hold the vote," said Debra Gillespie the Founder of Mothers Against Gun Violence. "I ask Wisconsinites, especially the constituents of Sen. Fitzgerald, to urge him to hold this vote. This is some life-saving legislation."

"These are moderate, common-sense proposals,"said Darryl Morin of Forward Latino. "You do not play politics with people's lives and that's why we are all here together. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, some grieving, to demand that today this Senate, this Assembly, to take a vote on these measures."

Republicans said they would gavel in and immediately gavel out, ending the session as soon as it begins. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he didn't "want to spend a bunch of time playing politics" with Democrats. Vos previously has said he wouldn't entertain proposals about second amendment rights.

Vos says a package of eight bills aimed at preventing deaths by suicide will be more effective than allowing judges to take away guns from people deemed a threat. The bills passed with bipartisan support (see related story).

One of the Republican proposals would create a grant program to pay gun shop owners to store guns voluntarily turned over by gun owners.
Another would create a new suicide prevention program within the state Department of Health Services. The proposals are now headed to the state Senate.

Evers sent Senator Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Vos a letter Thursday morning blasting them for ignoring the "will of the people" and demanded a vote. He said Wisconsinites deserve to know where their legislators stand on the bills.

Dear Leader Fitzgerald and Speaker Vos:

“As you know, on Oct. 21, 2019, I signed Executive Order #54 calling for the Legislature to meet today, Nov. 7, 2019 at 2 p.m. in a special session on gun safety reform. The Executive Order expressly calls for legislative action on two commonsense proposals that we know could save lives, as they have already done so in the states that have adopted them. The first would require universal background checks for all firearm purchases in the State of Wisconsin, and the second would establish an Extreme Risk Protection Order process to enable family members or law enforcement officers to temporarily remove firearms from an individual a judge finds to be a danger to themselves or others.

“As you also know, these two proposals have received support from 80 percent and 81 percent respectively of Wisconsinites across our state. Yet, despite this overwhelming support, you have declared you will not take a vote on these critical proposals, effectively ignoring the will of 80 percent of the people you and your colleagues represent.

“You are only 132 members of the Legislature. The people of this state expect more of their elected officials and they deserve to know where each of those 132 members stand on these commonsense proposals. I urge you to meet in a special session, take this vote, and let the vote speak for itself. If you refuse the people of this state a vote on these proposals, you are once again denying the will of the people, circumventing the democratic process, and refusing to do your job as elected officials.

“It’s time to stop with the partisan games and political power grabs, and start listening to the people of this state and get to work on address[sic] gun violence in Wisconsin.”


Tony Evers

Governor of Wisconsin

"This is not figuring a way to bring people together. This is not trying to say where we can find common ground. You heard today we picked topics that we hope are bipartisan that had universal almost unanimous votes on every vote we are putting on the calendar today," said Vos. "He doesn't want to focus on where the vast majority of the issue really lies and that’s trying to deal with suicide as a mental health issue. I think Gov. Evers playing politics with us is really sad, I certainly think that’s what he’s indicated over and over again, it’s all about the politics.”

Vos added Republicans who support the Second Amendment won't support the bills because "red flag" laws take firearms away from people without any due process.