New Wisconsin gun bill could face uphill battle in Republican-controlled Assembly, Senate

Democratic legislators push for universal background checks

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Following two recent mass shootings, Democratic legislators in Wisconsin are pushing for universal background checks. A new bill introduced Thursday would require all gun sales and transfers to be made through licensed dealers, and a background check would be required. 

At the state Capitol, Democratic legislators used their own connections to gun violence to highlight the need for change.

"Gun violence has been plaguing us for a generation and nothing [has been done]. So I think it has to be asked of [Republicans], what is their plan?" said Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, D-Wisconsin.  

Gov. Tony Evers, D-Wisconsin, said Republicans previously would not weigh in on the issue because there was no legislation, but now there is. Evers said every legislator should be asked on the record if they support it or not. 

"So that their constituents understand why they won't take a reasonable, moderate step to make our communities safer," said Evers.  

It's not surprising to see lawmakers use a major event to promote policy. Political analysts call it a "focusing event."

"It usually takes a crisis, like a mass shooting, to spark action," said Anthony Chergosky, a political analyst.

But the two parties have framed the conversation as too many guns and lax regulation versus mental health and violence in pop culture.

"It seems unlikely that there's going to be an agreement between the parties on this particular issue," Chergosky said.

But what about renewed calls to address gun violence? Chergosky said Republican legislators are unlikely to face much pressure from their constituents.

"Where's the Republican Party's base located? It's located increasingly in rural Wisconsin," Chergosky said.

A 2017 Pew Research Center study found 58% of adults in rural areas have a gun in the home, while just 41% of Americans in the suburbs do. 

"The only Republicans who might feel the pinch on this issue are Republicans in suburbs," Chergosky said.

But, he said, even if they're up for reelection, they might not be worried about getting voted out by a Democrat over lack of support for gun control. Chergosky said they might be more worried about challengers in their own party.  

"If you're in that position, and you're seen as weak on guns, weak on the Second Amendment, that could be very damaging," Chergosky said.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald agreed to talk about these issues with the governor this week. But Evers did not comment today about what was discussed. On a radio show today, Vos reiterated that he does not support the background checks.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D- La Crosse, said too many people have already died from gun violence. 

"Failing to address the growing threat of gun violence and mass shootings will only lead to more tragedies. Like the vast majority of Wisconsin residents, I support universal background checks and find it appalling that Republican politicians are refusing to take even the most basic steps to prevent gun violence,” Shilling said.

During the media conference in Madison, Evers said he could call a special session for the bill but is hoping there will be enough support for it to pass during the regular session. 

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