MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic lawmakers on Thursday proposed an expansion of background checks for gun sales in the state and called on Republicans who control the Legislature to pass the measure, even though GOP leaders have said they don’t support such a move.
“It’s time to stop waiting for permission from the NRA,” said Evers, a Democrat, at a news conference to announce the bill. “Enough is enough, folks. This is a moderate proposal, folks. It’s time to be bipartisan and it’s time to lead.”
Under the bill, the Wisconsin Department of Justice would conduct the background checks on purchases made at gun shows, online, auctions and other sales that aren’t covered by the federal law requiring background checks on guns sold through federally licensed dealers.
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Sales to a firearm dealer, a law enforcement officer or member of the armed services, firearms classified as antiques or a gift or inheritance to a family member would not be covered.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, said the state Justice Department currently conducts more than 100,000 background checks each year on handgun sales made through federally licensed firearms dealers.
“Their Second Amendment rights were not infringed upon,” Kaul said. It makes “no sense” that other sales evade background checks, he said.
“It does not protect Second Amendment rights in any way,” Kaul said of the loophole. “It is just bad policy that puts people’s safety at risk.”
Democrats pointed to a 2018 Marquette University Law School poll showing that more than 80% of respondents support a universal background check. Evers said Republicans oppose the idea “at their own risk at the polls.”
“This is not a controversial issue anywhere other than in this Capitol building,” said Democratic Rep. Melissa Sargent, of Madison, who is sponsoring the bill along with Sen. LaTonya Johnson, of Milwaukee.
Republicans have repeatedly said they have no interest in it.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, hours before the bill was released, said in an interview on WISN-AM that a background check bill and a “red flag” proposal are ineffective and “very unlikely” to be taken up by the Legislature. Red flag laws establish a process to take firearms away from people determined to be a threat to themselves or others.
Vos said the proposals won’t get at the real issues, which he said are tied to mental health and dealing with suicidal people.
“There are things we can certainly work together on that would deal with the problem that’s real and not just the one that’s the political answer,” Vos said. “There should be commonsense middle ground.”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald this week also said he opposes a universal background check bill. He said it would violate the Constitution’s Second Amendment.
Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke said the Evers proposal will be reviewed, but he rejected Democrats’ claim that expanded background checks would have prevented or significantly reduced the number of mass shootings.
“That’s why Assembly Republicans have been and remain committed to providing and expanding mental health resources to those in need — which has time and again been a root cause of many of these shootings,” Steineke said in a statement. (The American Psychological Association says blaming gun violence on mental illness is "inaccurate.")
Evers called on every Republican to take a stand on his proposal, which he called a “reasonable and moderate step” to increase safety. He was joined by 16 Democratic lawmakers, Kaul, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Middleton Police Chief Charles Foulke.
“This is an issue that should transcend political parties,” Evers said. "Bottom line is that the vast majority of gun owners and Wisconsinites across our state agree with us. No matter what kind of firearm you're buying or where you're buying it from, the process should be the same for everybody."
Vos and Fitzgerald did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Thursday afternoon Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz told Action 2 News, "You know I think the public is looking for something. You know, I don't have any delusions that we're going to be able to prevent every mass incident that's happening every so often, but I think we have an obligation to do everything we can to minimize these acts from happening."