Wisconsin Democrats Roll Out Red-Flag Gun Bill

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Amplifying the call from Badger State liberals for stricter gun control measures, Wisconsin Democrats introduced new red-flag legislation Thursday with the backing of the governor and state attorney general, but the measure is unlikely to pass the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, surrounded by Democratic lawmakers and members of his Cabinet at a Capitol news conference, June 20, 2019, is urging Republicans who control the Legislature to pass a state budget that includes Medicaid expansion and more money for schools, in Madison, Wis. Wisconsin’s conservative-controlled Supreme Court on Friday, June 21, 2019, upheld lame-duck laws limiting the powers of Democratic Gov. Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, handing Republican lawmakers a resounding victory. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer, File)

The bill, announced in a statement from Governor Tony Evers’ office Thursday morning, establishes a process to temporarily take guns away from people deemed to be a risk to themselves or others via a petition filed by family members or law enforcement and granted by a judge.

Such an order, called an extreme risk protection order, or ERPO, would expand upon already existing temporary restraining order measures which prohibit people with domestic abuse or child protection injunctions against them from purchasing or possessing firearms.

The legislation was penned by Senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee and Representative Melissa Sargent of Madison, the latter of whom also authored legislation introduced last month seeking universal background checks that would apply to any sale or transfer of a firearm with some exceptions, including a sale or transfer to a firearms dealer, law enforcement, or member of the armed services.

Thursday’s red-flag bill would require a court to find reasonable grounds for taking someone’s guns away if they are substantially likely to injure themselves or others if they possess a firearm. The initial ERPO would be effective for up to one year, with the possibility of the petition being extended if the person continues to be a safety risk.

The governor said in a statement Thursday that “it’s time to listen to the will of the people who overwhelmingly want elected officials to start taking gun violence seriously for our kids, our communities, and our state.”

Evers noted that nearly three of four gun deaths in Wisconsin are suicides, stating that it is time to allow for a process to “intervene to get folks in crisis the help and treatment they need.”

Attorney General Josh Kaul, who campaigned on expanding gun control measures, painted the legislation as providing another public safety tool to law enforcement.

“We need to ensure that, when necessary, they have tools available to intervene and prevent tragedies…when people exhibit warning signs showing that they present a threat to the safety of themselves or others,” he said in a statement.

Sargent also joined the governor and the attorney general in Thursday’s release and lamented that too many Wisconsinites continue to be affected by preventable firearm-related tragedies.

“Continued inaction is complacency,” she said, “and we cannot continue to stand idly by as our communities struggle to adapt to a world in which gun violence is accepted as the new norm.”

Sargent cited the success of similar ERPO laws in other states. Evers’ release further points out that 17 other states and the District of Columbia have implemented such laws, which have proven to be successful in preventing deaths from gun violence.

The bill, however, faces an uphill battle to say the least. Both houses of the Legislature are GOP-majority and no Republicans signed onto the bill.

In a joint statement Thursday, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, signaled that they would unequivocally oppose the bill.

“It’s widely known that we believe this legislation poses threats to due process and the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” the Republicans said.

Referring to a comment Evers made at a Thursday press conference stating that he would consider supporting mandatory gun buybacks, the legislators said the governor “revealed Democrats’ real agenda: taking away firearms that are lawfully owned, which is unacceptable.”

Vos and Fitzgerald said that Wisconsin laws already prohibit felons from owning guns, and that the idea of “confiscating firearms from law-abiding citizens…shows just how radical Democrats have become.”

The Republicans pointed to $100 million in school safety grants they passed last year and said they are working on a bipartisan effort to improve the state’s mental health care system, also adding that they hope the state’s suicide prevention task force will provide guidance toward legislation that actually has a chance at bipartisan support.

The Legislature has yet to act on last month’s universal background checks bill, which was met with similar resistance from Republicans.

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