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Wisconsin Democrats say they’ll push for new gun restrictions in wake of Texas school shooting

Madison lawmaker will renew efforts to pass gun laws blocked by GOP

guns on wall at a store
In this photo taken March 15, 2017, AR-15 style rifles made by Battle Rifle Co., a gunmaker in Webster, Texas, are on display in its retail shop. Lisa Marie Pane/AP Photo

Democratic state officials in Wisconsin say they’ll renew their push for new gun laws in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 elementary students and two teachers.

On Wednesday, state Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, said she would pick up an effort to pass laws that would expand background checks and create a red flag law in Wisconsin that would allow a judge to order guns be taken away from individuals found to be dangerous. Also on Wednesday, state Attorney General Josh Kaul called on state legislators to take action to “keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers” in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision last week that overturned some restrictions.

The Texas shooting is the deadliest school shooting since a shooter killed 26 people in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in 2012. At the federal and state levels, the horrific news out of Texas renewed longstanding debates about a gun culture and the laws that allow widespread access to weapons even among those who have been convicted of crimes or found to be a danger to themselves or others. At a press conference in the Wisconsin Capitol, Agard made an emotional appeal.

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“No parent, no family member should drop their children off in school and have to pick them up in a body bag and have them identified by DNA because their little bodies were riddled by a domestic terrorist,” she said, recounting what guardians have gone through in Uvalde. “We need to stand up and be brave to take life-saving action to save our children.”

In Wisconsin, the stalemate between the Republican-controlled state Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has meant no new laws restricting or liberalizing gun ownership have passed in recent years.

In April, Evers vetoed three Republican bills that would have expanded the ability to carry concealed weapons, including one that would have let people with concealed carry permits bring guns onto school grounds in their cars.

At the time, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement that Evers’ vetoes of these and dozens of other bills showed “disregard for Wisconsin priorities.” Vos did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday from Wisconsin Public Radio on whether the measures to expand gun rights would be a priority in a new legislative session.

In 2019, Evers called a special legislative session on the same proposed laws Agard advocated for Wednesday — expanding background checks and creating a red flag law. The GOP Legislature began and ended that session in less than a minute with no debate or discussion of the bills. Legislative leaders were dismissive of the proposals at the time.

“We’ve already had these debates,” Vos told reporters then. “We know where people stand.”

Speaking at the Capitol on Wednesday, Kaul said “Republican legislators have made the choice not to act and to allow (mass shootings) to continue happening. And until they act, we can’t expect a different result.”

“Politicians, and Republican politicians in particular, need to be more concerned about parents than they are about the NRA,” Kaul said, referring to the National Rifle Association, a gun rights lobbyist. “They need to be more worried about keeping kids safe than they are about keeping their political futures safe.”

Kaul also referenced a state Supreme Court decision from last week that overturned the state Department of Justice’s decision to block a man convicted of disorderly conduct in a domestic violence case from getting a concealed carry gun permit.

“That is going to make it easier for people who have committed domestic violence to get firearms,” Kaul said. “They now will pass a background check … and be able to get a concealed carry license. And I have not seen the Legislature lift a finger in the few days since then.”

Kaul called it a “common sense” measure that has broad public support, along with universal background checks and laws preventing the sale of “ghost guns,” or untraceable gun-assembly kits that allow people to put together guns in their homes.

In an appearance early this month on WPR’s “The Morning Show,” retiring state Sen. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, noted that his efforts as a “Second Amendment guy” to introduce a law that would have limited domestic violence perpetrators’ ability to purchase guns hit a brick wall in the Legislature.

“I said simply, ‘Let’s replicate what’s in federal law in state law,’” Kooyenga said. “And I couldn’t even get hearings on those bills. And that’s ridiculous.”

Reporting out of Texas has found that the 18-year-old Uvalde shooter purchased the guns he used in the school shooting legally just days ago, and just days after his 18th birthday. The shooter used AR-style rifles.

Wisconsin’s state Superintendent Jill Underly, who heads the state Department of Public Instruction, in a statement called on lawmakers to “take action to urgently protect our children and communities.”

“The education of Wisconsin students and the safety of our children and educators in our schools must be address — not tomorrow, not next month, and not after the next loss of life,” Underly said. “Our students cannot learn if they are not alive. It sickens me that I have to say that, but I will keep saying it until our kids are safe.”