A small yet worthy idea to address gun violence in Wisconsin seems to have bipartisan support, which is encouraging.
But so much more must be done to protect the public from senseless shootings, including universal background checks and strict limits on weapons of war.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican lawmakers appear to agree on the need for suicide prevention measures at gun stores and ranges. The governor included $150,000 in his state budget proposal to train staff at firearm retailers and ranges to recognize when someone might be contemplating suicide. The money also could pay for related literature at gun shops and precautionary, voluntary firearm storage.
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Two lawmakers — Sen. Jesse James, R-Altoona, and Rep. Shae Sortwell, R-Two Rivers — have introduced the same proposal as a standalone bill. So this looks like it can pass, which is good. Paying closer attention to people with guns who might have harmful thoughts could save lives and maybe even prevent a mass shooting. Credit James and Sortwell for seeking this small measure of progress.
Yet the epidemic of gun violence across America — including last week’s killing of two police officers near the northwestern Wisconsin village of Cameron — demands much bigger and broader action from the Republican-run Legislature.
Gun rights advocates claim, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” But mass shooters using military-style weapons kill more people, on average, than other mass shooters. So the gun can be the difference in how many die.
Moreover, the absence of a gun can prevent violence. The gun homicide rate in the U.S. is 26 times higher than in other wealthy nations with stricter laws, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
After so many massacres at schools, theaters and stores, a significant legislative response is needed, which Evers and other Democrats have strongly favored.
Wisconsin, for example, should require consistent background checks on all gun purchases and transfers. That way, if a dangerous person isn’t supposed to have a deadly weapon, a potential sale can be canceled. While licensed dealers must run a check before finalizing a purchase, many online and in-person sellers are exempt.
That’s how a man was able to purchase a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun to fatally shoot three women at a Brookfield spa in 2012. He got the gun from an online seller. A background check would have stopped the sale because of the man’s lengthy restraining order.
The GOP-controlled Legislature also should adopt a “red flag” law allowing judges to temporarily disarm people with strong evidence of imminent danger. At the national level, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act encourages states to adopt “red flag” protections.
GOP representatives should bring back a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases, which could have prevented a young man in Madison from buying a gun in 2016 and, the very next day, shooting a 24-year-old grocery store worker from Stoughton.
Wisconsin’s GOP should hold parents responsible for loose guns when children use them to kill or maim people. The 15-year-old who killed his principal at Weston High School in rural Cazenovia in 2006 got his guns from his father’s home.
The legal age for buying a firearm should be raised from 18 to 21, given how many young people cause mass shootings. Florida did just that — and more — following the 2018 school massacre in Parkland.
Wisconsin should strictly limit — if not ban — the sale of military-style weapons to civilians, such as assault rifles and exploding ammunition. An AR-15, which was designed for war, isn’t necessary to hunt deer or protect your family. Similarly, reasonable limits should be set on high-capacity magazines.
Some Republicans are finally stepping up to help Democrats protect the public from chronic gun violence. But James and Sortwell’s baby steps, though welcome, are far from real solutions.