, , , ,

Wisconsin Congressional Candidate Highlights Mother’s Suicide As Need For More Gun Control

Khary Penebaker Is Making Gun Control A Key Issue In His Race Against Long-Time GOP Incumbent Jim Sensenbrenner

"No guns" sign
Jen Gallardo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Despite several mass shootings in recent years, gun control isn’t getting much debate at the local level this campaign season. Democrats often say they want stronger controls, but most Democratic contenders are saying little on the stump.

An exception is in the Milwaukee suburbs, where the Democratic candidate for Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District, Khary Penebaker, is making universal background checks a key issue of his campaign.

Khary Penebaker Photo courtesy of Khary For Congress

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The area Penebaker, who is the president of a roofing company, is running to represent includes part of Waukesha County, one of the most conservative areas of the state. It has been represented by Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner since 1979.

At a recent gathering in downtown Waukesha, about 30 members of the progressive group Grassroots Waukesha met for a sidewalk demonstration for gun control.

Near the end of the event, they gathered around Penebaker, who was holding a copy of his mother’s death certificate.

“On this death certificate, you know what it doesn’t say? Doesn’t tell me what her favorite color is. Doesn’t tell me that she loved me, that she didn’t want to die, but she had easy access to a gun,” Penebaker said before later adding, “It just says gunshot wound to the head.”

Penebaker’s mother committed suicide with a firearm 37 years ago. The candidate contends many suicides, homicides and accidental shootings could be prevented if there was a national law requiring background checks for all gun sales, including sales between private sellers.

“We want to be proactive in saving lives,” Penebaker said. “We’re doing this because we don’t want other families to experience this.”

Penebaker said Sensenbrenner, his Republican opponent, has a defeatist attitude for refusing to press for universal background checks.

Sensenbrenner, a 38-year incumbent, was not made available for an interview for this story.

But he told WPR’s Joy Cardin last month that background checks for private gun sales go too far.

“And, I don’t think that is actually going to stop criminals from getting firearms and using them in the commission of a crime,” Sensenbrenner said. “Prosecuting those who have already violated the law by possessing a firearm is the way to go, because you get these people off the street.”

So far, Sensenbrenner’s point of view has won the day in Congress. Likewise, the Wisconsin Legislature has done nothing in recent years in the way of limiting gun sales. With help from Democrats, the state now has a concealed carry law that may have led to more people with guns.

Former Democratic state lawmaker Jim Holperin voted for concealed carry. Now a small business owner in Eagle River, Holperin said it’s difficult for many Democrats to talk gun control during election campaigns if their constituents don’t want to hear it.

“On gun control, since I represented a far Northern Wisconsin district, I always voted the way I thought voters in the 12th Senate or 34th Assembly District would have wanted me to vote,” Holperin said.

In northern Wisconsin, there is widespread support for the Second Amendment, and for fewer gun regulations, he said. Still, over time, Holperin predicts there will be movement toward additional background checks.

That can’t happen fast enough for some people in the Sherman Park area of Milwaukee such as resident Marcella De Peters.

Last Thursday – standing just a block away from a site where four hours prior a 19-year-old woman was injured by gunfire while sitting in a vehicle – De Peters said in recent years she’s heard more gunfire in the neighborhood.

She’d like Congress to OK more gun control, such as universal background checks.

“I don’t see any reason why any politicians oppose more background checks and a waiting period, other than they’re in the pocket of the NRA,”
De Peters said. “I mean that’s the only explanation. It’s just ridiculous.”

The NRA, or National Rifle Association, has been trying to defeat Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, fearing she would take executive action on some gun restrictions since many Democrats running for Congress aren’t pushing the issue. An exception being Penebaker in his uphill battle against Jim Sensenbrenner in suburban Milwaukee.

Show your WPR support! Starting at $20/month. Give Now.

Related Stories