In the wake of several mass shootings across the country over the weekend, including in Kenosha County, TMJ4 News took a closer look at what Wisconsin lawmakers and the public believe needs to be done to address this problem.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul says he and Gov. Tony Evers are tired of waiting on state lawmakers to act.
"There are common-sense gun safety measures that we can enact, including comprehensive background checks. It is purely a question of legislative will at this point,” Kaul said.
Eighteen months ago, Gov. Evers called the legislature into a special session to address gun violence. Specifically, to expand background checks to include private gun sales and secondly, to introduce ‘red flag laws’ which would allow police to take guns away from people found to be a risk to themselves or others with a judge’s approval.
Republicans who control the legislature dismissed the governor’s efforts in 2019, and State Sen. Chris Kapenga says he still does.
“The guns are not causing these issues. Bad people are the ones who are doing these,” said the Waukesha Republican.
Kapenga believes gun legislation wouldn’t address the root cause of the issue, which he thinks is people struggling with anxiety and depression.
“Indiana's shooting, they have a red flag law, and it didn't stop that,” he said. “Colorado has universal background checks, it didn't stop that, and I think it's just a very simple and easy political talking point to just quickly throw out there, so we can feel good about ourselves in public policy. But it's a much deeper conversation.”
Kapenga points out that the state already has laws in place to remove weapons from people who are seen to be mentally unstable. He also thinks the state’s current background checks for handguns are thorough.
Each time a licensed gun store wants to sell a handgun in Wisconsin, they have to call a state hotline to check their record. The Department of Justice says they received more than 242,000 calls in 2020, which was 100,000 more than in 2019.
But what does the public think? A Marquette Law School Poll found that 81 percent of participants support requiring red flag laws and background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows.
However, poll director Charles Franklin says 62 percent of participants think that if those laws were passed, it would make little to no difference in the effort to prevent mass shootings.
“The public, while wanting these laws, is dubious about how big of an effect they'll really have. So that I think is a real issue for proponents of gun laws, to explain to the public why those laws might be effective,” Franklin said.