Democrats renew calls for gun control, GOP largely focused on loosening gun laws
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Democrats are renewing calls to tighten gun laws in wake of the horrific school shooting in Texas, blasting their GOP colleagues who have resisted taking up gun control measures.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul and State Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) urged GOP leaders to consider mandating background checks on all gun purchases and implementing 'red flag' laws that can take guns away from those who pose a threat.
"No parent, no family member should drop their children off at school and have to pick them up in a body bag," said Sen. Agard in response to the 18-year-old who opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two teachers.
The offices of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu didn't return requests for comment.
Republican lawmakers have repeatedly rejected Democratic gun safety proposals despite a majority, 80%, supporting universal background checks on all gun purchases, according to polling by Marquette University Law School.
In 2019, Republicans ignored Gov. Tony Evers' special session to consider a pair of gun control measures, arguing the bills infringe on second amendment rights.
In a video message Wednesday, Evers invited Republicans to work with him to "find common ground" and to "make progress on gun safety."
"If we can prevent one more kid from watching their friends be maimed with their own eyes, if we can prevent one more parent from having their soul ripped out from them by learning they will never see their kid laugh or cry or play again…then it’ll be worth it," Evers said.
Over the last decade, Republicans have largely focused on loosening gun laws instead of tightening them.
In 2015, then-Gov. Scott Walker signed into law bills that would make it easier to access guns, including removing the 48-hour waiting period to purchase firearms and allowing off-duty or retired police officers to carry concealed firearms into public schools.
The bills were signed shortly after a gunman killed nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
This year, Republicans sent Gov. Evers a series of bills that would have expanded Wisconsin's concealed carry laws. One bill would have allowed gun owners to have their firearm in their car while on school grounds. Another would have let people carry guns at places of worship at private schools.
Under current state law, guns are not allowed anywhere on school grounds, regardless of if a person has a concealed carry permit. Republican authors of the bill argued the proposals would ensure parents don't accidentally break the law when picking up their children from school.
In addition, GOP lawmakers sent a bill to the governor's desk that would have allowed out-of-state gun owners to legally carry in Wisconsin, regardless if the state conducted a background check.
All of the bills were vetoed by Evers in April.
In 2022, State Rep. Shae Sortwell, a Republican from Two Rivers, introduced a bill to lower the minimum age for conceal carry permit holders from 21 to 18.
Kaul said "Republicans need to be more concerned about parents than they are about the NRA," adding he has little faith anything will change as long as Republicans maintain control of the state Legislature.
"There has been no time spent on common sense gun safety measures that can keep communities safer," Kaul said. "We need our Legislature to get serious about these issues."
Gov. Evers is able to block GOP gun bills from becoming law, but that could change if he loses reelection in November. Almost all of the Republican candidates running for governor have signaled support to allow Wisconsinites to carry concealed guns without a license.
GOP candidates Rebecca Kleefisch, Kevin Nicholson and Tim Ramthun have said they would sign legislation to eliminate permit requirements for gun owners who want to carry a concealed weapon, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Tim Michels did not return messages for comment.
While in office, Walker oppose the idea often referred to as constitutional carry. Most Wisconsinites, 76%, oppose getting rid of concealed carry permits, according to a MU poll.
In Congress, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) pushed his colleagues to support an effort to codify federal law to inform parents and teachers on the best ways to improve school safety.
"To do something for these families [and] provide them some measure of comfort," Johnson said on the Senate floor hours after dodging a question from a reporter whether or not he supports universal background checks.
"There is no reason not to pass this bill today in this chamber at this hour."
The "Luke and Alex School Safety Act" seeks to codify law that already exists though the SchoolSafety.gov website that provides best practices to address school safety concerns. The proposal is named after Luke Hoyer and Alex Schachter who were killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting in 2018.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) blocked the measure, saying on the floor, "We are going to vote on gun legislation."