Wisconsin gun legislation called for by AG Kaul, Democrats

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Democratic legislators call for gun law changes, speaking in Madison on Thursday, Sept. 23.

The group wants expanded background checks and to give a judge the ability to remove guns from people who could be a danger to themselves or others. It is not likely either will pass the Wisconsin Legislature.

"These bills have been introduced before, but we are bringing them up again now because this issue cannot wait any longer for action," Kaul said.

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Democrats pitch the bill to close what they call background check "loopholes." Federal law currently requires federally licensed dealers to conduct background checks, but private party sales are not covered – such as those arranged online or between private parties at gun shows. The proposed legislature would required gun transfers to go through federally licensed dealers and require background checks.

"This is an issue that’s just about sensible reform," State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said. "In Wisconsin, there is no question of being a state that believes in hunting, a state that believes in liberty, independence and hard work. There’s no question that we understand individuals who support their gun rights. However, gun violence is plaguing our country and plaguing our state. 

"No, this bill won’t end all gun violence, but it does have the ability to save lives. This bill won’t end the Second Amendment."

The bill would still allow some sales or transfers without background checks to dealers, police and members of the armed services. It would also exempt antique guns or gifts or bequests to family.

If it became law, breaking it would mean facing fines up to $10,000, jail up to nine months and a two-year ban from having a gun.

"This is not a gun grab," said State Rep. Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay), herself a gun owner.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul

A second bill, often called a "red flag law," would allow police or family to ask a judge to take guns away from a person considering suicide or violence.

In 2019, Gov. Tony Evers called a special session of the legislature to pass expanded background checks and the red flag law. The Republican legislative leaders gaveled in and gaveled out, saying those bills wouldn't pass.

A 2019 Marquette Law School poll found 81% of Wisconsin respondents supported a red flag law. 

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Kaul, a Democrat is up for reelection next year. University of Wisconsin Professor Ryan Owens is one of two Republicans running against Kaul.

"I think this is a cynical political ploy to make him look like he cares about the issue. Frankly, he’s had years to do this; he hasn’t been able get it done," said Owens. "I think we need to be very very cautious when we move the dial on things like this. And again, if he was very serious about safety, I think we would have seen a lot more from him. He would not be throwing law enforcement under the bus, as he has done in his tenure."

Another Republican running for attorney general is Eric Toney, Fond du Lac County District Attorney. He says Kaul is ignoring the "homicide epidemic" in Milwaukee and pushing a radical agenda.

Kaul himself accuses Republicans of chasing conspiracy theories and criticizes the Republican investigation into the 2020 election.

"There’s $600,000 being spent on an investigation into conspiracy theories, there are hearings on conspiracy theories. Let’s address real issues that Wisconsinites are actually facing and work to make our communities safer."

Toney countered. "Fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and ballots should be treated equally and counted the same no matter where they are cast.  Kaul was a liberal activist lawyer challenging Wisconsin election laws in federal court, so it’s not a surprise that he hasn’t stepped up to defend or clarify our election laws as attorney general."

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