Amid an ongoing national debate over the appropriate regulations for the purchasing and ownership of firearms, some Wisconsin lawmakers and taxpayers have declared their support for expanding background checks for all firearm sales in the state.
Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation that would establish a legal process to confiscate firearms from individuals who have had domestic restraining orders filed against them. A Senate public safety committee approved the bill unanimously Thursday. But Democrats are pushing for even stronger measures.
Under current Wisconsin law, only federally licensed firearm dealers require background checks, but private and gun show sales have no such requirement. The bill, introduced by Democrats with 16,500 signatures from individuals across the state, would create universal background checks for all firearm purchases in Wisconsin.
The bill was re-introduced by Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, and Sen. Nikiya Harris, D-Milwaukee, Thursday.
Richards and Berceau first announced the bill last April, but it gained little traction in the Assembly, where the bill has not come up in committee.
“The bill would close the loopholes that allow people who are not supposed to have weapons from getting them,” Berceau said. “This bill has a lot of support, which can be seen from the signatures, and in a democracy, that much support for something is supposed to mean a hearing or at least something.”
According to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, only 60 percent of guns are bought from federally licensed dealers, while the rest are bought through private dealers.
Jeff Nass, legislative affairs liaison for Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Ranges, Clubs and Educators Inc., which is the state’s National Rifle Association chartered association, said private purchases were not a loophole and were not improper.
Nass also said after the concealed carry law passed in Wisconsin, violent gun rates did not rise noticeably. He said increased restrictions on gun ownership will not affect violent crime rates either.
“Back when carry and conceal came out everybody thought it was going to be the Wild West here in Wisconsin, and people thought there would be violence, but there was no Wild West,” Nass said. “There is no need for a law like this because we aren’t the Wild West. They try and act like a law like this will do something, but the truth is it won’t.”
Many supporters of the bill showed up to its announcement Thursday, including Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and Jeri Bonavia, the executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, according to a statement released by Harris’s office.
A recent CBS/New York Times poll found that the estimated nationwide support of universal background checks is as high as 92 percent.
The legislators who crafted the bill said the main objective is to close up loopholes that allow those who are prohibited from purchasing guns from getting their hands on them.
A study done by John Hopkins University showed that nearly 80 percent of prison inmates who had committed crimes involving a handgun had acquired it through a non-licensed gun dealer.
Nass said creating legislation that would punish law-abiding citizens would not decrease crime rates.
“If I buy a gun from my cousin or uncle that isn’t a loophole in the law. If we are hunting in the woods and your gun breaks, and I borrow you my extra rifle, then that would be an illegal transfer,” Nass said. “That’s not improper, and punishing law-abiding citizens won’t solve anything. Bad guys, the ones who commit crimes, are going to find a way to get weapons. They will steal them, and this law won’t do anything to prevent that.”