Three state lawmakers introduced a bill in late March to the Wisconsin Legislature that will require universal background checks for those hoping to buy guns in the state.
Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, Rep Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, and Sen. Nikiya Harris, D-Milwaukee, co-authored the bill. They released a statement March 21 saying their bill will close a loophole in the federal law requiring background checks of someone who wants to buy a gun.
Federal law only requires criminal background checks of people who purchase guns from federally licensed firearms dealers. The proposed state law would also require other gun sellers, such as private groups, gun shows and flea markets to also perform criminal background checks on people before sales.
In Wisconsin, a number of people do not go through a criminal background check because they buy from unlicensed gun dealers.
The statement urged universal background checks would act as a deterrent to crime. It cited statistics which showed that throughout a 12-year period, background checks prevented 2 million people from purchasing. The statement also cited a study showing 80 percent of criminals who used a handgun in crime procured the gun from a seller who was not a licensed dealer.
Universal background checks, the statement said, could have prevented the shooting at the Brookfield, Wis., spa where three women were killed by the estranged husband of one of the victims after he purchased a gun on the Internet the day before the shooting. He could not legally purchase a gun and would not have been allowed to purchase the gun if he had been required to go through a criminal background check, the statement said.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said he strongly supports universal background checks in a statement. In his statement, he said background checks to purchase guns should not be voluntary and the loophole in the law caters to criminals.
Jeff Nass, the executive director of Wisconsin FORCE, an NRA-chartered state association, said the group is opposed to universal background checks because there is no official way to do them without regulating all of the firearms in the state. He added he could not speak for the NRA.
“We already have a huge amount of law involved with firearms, we’re already infringing on people’s rights of self defense,” Nass said.
Additional regulation would be a step in the wrong direction, he said.
Nass said universal background checks would not have prevented the shooting at the Brookfield spa because the shooter could have stolen the gun or procured it from the black market, which would not be regulated by universal background checks.
He said incidents like the Brookfield spa shooting underscore why people need to carry guns – so they are able to defend themselves. He said when more people are carrying guns it increases the likelihood that they are able to stop a shooter from injuring and killing people.
He said disarming people will not decrease violence and will only make people more vulnerable when incidents do occur.
Andrew Coan, an assistant professor at University of Wisconsin’s law school, said the law would not violate the Second Amendment. He said the Supreme Court has been clear that reasonable regulations on the sale of guns and prohibitions on the ownership of guns by criminals and mentally ill do not violate the Second Amendment.
He said the goal of universal background checks is to prevent guns from falling into the hands of these groups and are almost certainly constitutional.