Nearly three weeks after the Marjory Stoneman-Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida, America’s gun control debate has only grown more volatile.
As politicians grapple with the task of making our country safer, two of America’s top gun retailers, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods, took precautions to severely limit sales of firearms, particularly the semiautomatic rifles that are commonly used in mass shootings. In a strange turn of events, America’s corporations took the moral high road even though it may slash profits.
If large conglomerates can look within themselves and take steps to solve significant societal issues, there is no reason smaller entities cannot. Change starts at home. So where does Wisconsin sit when it comes to assault rifles?
No one is entirely sure. Determining the number of assault rifles in the state and who owns them is virtually impossible. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the federal agency responsible for overseeing the sale of firearms, does not keep a record of every purchase or owner. The records that do exist are spread across the hundreds of licensed gun dealers across the state. Semiautomatics, weapons of choice in several mass-shootings, are in wide circulation across Wisconsin — but no one is sure where.
Records do exist, albeit inconveniently decentralized, but they only apply to licensed distributors. If one wants to buy a gun second hand, the ATF encourages the two parties to follow applicable laws and be in the presence of a licensed seller. But since it’s not required, second-hand gun sales is where the paper trail of gun ownership goes cold. This makes searching for guns involved in crimes extremely difficult, making their large, yet unorganized presence in Wisconsin all the more troubling. Therefore, Wisconsin needs a systemic, statewide registry of all firearms, particularly assault rifles and long guns.
Canada adopted a similar nationwide registry in 1995. A Statistics Canada study showed from 1995 to 2010, there was a 41 percent decrease in long gun homicides. Law enforcement used registry information over 17,000 times per day. A system like this in Wisconsin would significantly minimize the number of homicides in the state and make it easier for police to investigate the crimes that do happen. Overall, a statewide registry would make Wisconsin safer.
Sadly, Canada ended the long gun registry requirement in 2012 because of push from conservative lawmakers. This move led to an immediate spike in firearm-related homicides. Given that Wisconsin is a state rather than a country, one can assume that the effects of a statewide registry may not be the same. But if Wisconsin’s hypothetical registry has even a fraction of the amount of success that Canada’s did, every citizen of the state would be safer.
Furthermore, a new policy such as this can be seen as a satiating compromise to the gun control debate, albeit only at a state level for now. Violence will be curtailed and justice will be easier for law enforcement to pursue, while not infringing on anyone’s right to bear arms.
It may not be a perfect solution, but it’s a start. If current events have shown anything, is that things need to change for the safety of ourselves, our children and our future. Let a statewide registry for firearms be the start of a shift towards a safer Wisconsin.
Abigail Steinberg ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring political science and intending to major in journalism.