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Democratic lawmakers plead for change in state gun laws PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wisconsin Examiner Republish   
Friday, 03 June 2022 08:16

gun-laws-latonya-johnson-speaksBackground check, ‘red flag law’ measures have broad public support, advocates say.

MADISON - With every legislative session since Gov. Tony Evers took office, the governor and Democratic lawmakers have sought legislation that they say could tamp down, at least slightly, the proliferation of firearms in Wisconsin. They’ve been ignored or rebuffed by leaders of the Legislature’s Republican majority each time.

Even the recent mass shootings of Black supermarket patrons killed by a white supremacist in Buffalo, New York, and schoolchildren and teachers massacred at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, weren’t the most recent ones any more, said Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) at a mid-morning morning news conference in the Capitol on Thursday. Hours before Agard took the podium, there were three more incidents overnight Wednesday in Tulsa, Okla., Los Angeles, and Pittston, Pa.

Agard and Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) called the news conference to air their frustration and issue a public challenge to the absent Republicans. “We’re asking for our legislative colleagues to take seriously what we know people all across the state of Wisconsin are asking for: action in addressing gun violence,” Agard said.

The event focused on two pieces of legislation. One was for universal background checks for firearms purchases that would end the state’s current exemption of private sales. The other was for a “red flag” law that police or family members could use to seek an extreme risk protection order in court to take guns from gun owners who are found to be a danger to themselves or others.

Agard was surrounded by a crowd of other lawmakers as well as volunteers who wore shirts identifying themselves with March For Our Lives, Moms Demand Action and other groups that have campaigned to reduce the proliferation of firearms.

Another advocate who joined them was Darryl Morin. Morin, who is based in the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin, is the national president of the advocacy group Forward Latino.

He is also the founder of the 80% Coalition, made up of Forward Latino, several gun safety advocacy groups and several faith groups, including the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Milwaukee Synod, and the Wisconsin Council of Churches. The coalition’s motto is “Pray and Act,” said Morin, who wore the slogan on his jacket lapel.

The coalition formed after mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif., and El Paso, Texas, in which many who lost their lives were Hispanic, Morin said. It has focused its legislative priorities on the background check and red-flag law proposals and takes its name from Marquette University Law School polls that found that more than 80% of Wisconsin voters support those two measures.

The coalition’s member groups represent almost 1 million Wisconsin residents, Morin said. “These are people of all political stripes, racial and ethnic backgrounds across the socioeconomic spectrum. And many of their members, like myself, lawfully own firearms and are demanding these changes.”

guns-stopvEvers first introduced the two proposals in Wisconsin in 2019 with a special session on gun safety that the Republicans snubbed. In the Legislature’s current 2021-22 biennium, Democrats reintroduced them as AB-637/SB-624 for background checks and AB-638 for the protection order law.

Neither got a hearing or a committee vote, and after the Assembly and Senate leaders adjourned regular floor action by mid-March for the rest of this year, they are listed on the Legislature’s website as “failed to pass.”

With Republican majorities controlling the calendar, said Johnson, “we can’t get a bill to committee, no less a bill to the floor for a vote or for debate, without their help.”

Johnson and Agard pleaded for lawmakers to act on the two measures. “We can not continue to go down this path,” Agard said. “We must set aside our partisan differences in order to save the lives of the people in the state of Wisconsin.”


Johnson alluded to Republican political campaign messaging that has highlighted violence in Milwaukee and called for more police. “We are asking police officers to protect the lives of everyday citizens by risking their lives, because our legislative body, my Republican colleagues, are unwilling to do what’s necessary to help alleviate some of the guns on the street,” she said. “And that’s unacceptable.”

The upcoming elections are an opportunity for the public to make choices that could change the power dynamic in the state on the subject of guns, said Agard, expressing the hope that Wisconsin voters “make this one of the primary issues as they go to the ballot box” this year.

“It is our job as elected officials to make sure that our state is safe and secure for everyone that calls it home,” Agard said. “And when you have elected officials who are failing to act, it’s a dereliction of duty — they need to be escorted out.”

Forward Latino and the 80% Coalition are nonpartisan. “I’m not a member of the Democratic Party,” Morin said. “I’m not here to partake in some partisan show.”

In an interview, he said he’s spoken with pollsters at Marquette who have reiterated that among members of the public, the background check and red-flag measures have “rock solid” support “across Republicans, Democrats, gun owners, non-gun owners alike.”

But lawmakers in some states are also enacting measures, such as relaxing concealed-carry requirements, “even though they were phenomenally unpopular within their states,” Morin said “So it seems like there is this shift going on right now, where a particular constituency is driving the agenda. And legislators in the majority are following that instead of the will of their constituents.”

He believes the most recent incidents and their frequency could make a difference, however.

“It’s going to take an electorate saying that ‘I will not forget these dead children when the elections come around. I will not allow you to get me angry enough about some other government program or issue and lose the focus I have on protecting these young lives,’” Morin said. “And so we’re really hopeful that we will see something happen in the not too distant future.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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