Rep. Jon Richards frustrated with progress of gun control bill

MADISON (WITI) -- Are universal background checks on the back burner in Madison? A Milwaukee Democrat is criticizing Republicans for allowing his gun control bill to "languish" without getting a hearing. Gov. Scott Walker says the issue is a distraction.

Rep. Jon Richards (D - Milwaukee) is pushing for the universal background checks bill -- saying the majority of the public supports it. The bill would require criminal background checks for all firearms transactions.

Background checks are already required for federally licensed dealers, but there are loopholes when buying online, in flea markets and at gun shows.

Richards' bill would close the loopholes, and he says it would make it harder for felons and domestic abusers to get their hands on guns.

Richards is also running for Attorney General. His opponent in the race says constitutional rights shouldn't be decided by polls.

Perhaps the key to getting anything done in Madison is Gov. Walker's support -- and gun control is not on his agenda.

In 2012, Wisconsin was rocked by two mass shootings in two months. First, at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, and then at the Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield.

One of the victims in the Azana shooting was Zina Daniel. Daniel's brother, a card-carrying member of the NRA became an unlikely and outspoken advocate of background checks.

A background check on the gunman, Radcliffe Haughton was not performed because Haughton purchased his firearm online.

"Had there been a background check done, there's a good possibility Zina would still be with us today," Daniel said.

Attempts to change gun laws failed at the federal level, but the fight continues in state legislatures around the country and in Madison.

The most recent Marquette University Law School poll shows that nearly three out of every four people in Wisconsin support universal background checks.

"I think the people of Wisconsin are asking for this. It's very clear that all around Wisconsin -- no matter where you go in the state -- we want to make sure we're safe and we want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals," Richards said.

Richards authored a bill almost a year ago -- but it has yet to get a hearing on the Republican-controlled Criminal Justice Committee.

"I think it's important for us to do all we can to keep guns out of the hands of criminals," Richards said.

"My agenda has been exclusively focused on things like property tax relief, worker training bills. We're going to have some other announcements about economic development issues," Gov. Walker said.

Gov. Walker says gun control is a distraction from his goal of improving the state's economy.

"There's a tendency with any legislative body to get off on a variety of different issues out there.  I want to keep them focused -- as we did last fall --  on worker training, on tax relief, on economic incentives, on things that can put more people to work in the state of Wisconsin," Gov. Walker said.

Gov. Walker and several Republicans called for improving mental health services in the wake of the 2012 shootings.

Seven bipartisan proposals aimed at improving the effectiveness of Wisconsin's mental health system just passed the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee last week.