GOP: Don't look for new gun restrictions in state
MADISON Amid continuing debate over cutting gun violence, Republicans in control of the Wisconsin Legislature say it's unlikely the state will pass any gun-control legislation this session.
While some other states and Congress mull bans on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, or tighter background checks on buyers, Wisconsin Republicans say they will focus instead on potential gaps in the state's mental health system.
"I'd be really surprised if anything passes here in Wisconsin that would restrict gun access," said state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend. "We haven't talked about it because we're not going to do it."
Grothman, a gun owner and member of the National Rifle Association, said he is against most, if not all, of the measures President Barack Obama's administration is pushing since a gunman killed 20 first-grade students and six educators in December at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Obama and some congressional lawmakers led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., are calling for universal background checks on gun buyers, restoring a ban on military-style assault weapons and limiting the size of ammunition magazines.
Some Republicans say that's an overreaction.
"They looked at the isolated incident in Connecticut, which a horrible thing, and all of a sudden say we have to change our constitution," Grothman said. "We have more guns but less problems in Wisconsin."
Federal data show Wisconsin had 80 firearm murders in 2011, down from 97 the year before. Nationally, firearm murders have dropped in recent years; the number was in 8,583 in 2011, down from 10,129 in 2007. Calculating the level of gun ownership in Wisconsin is more difficult since the state doesn't require firearm registration.
The low profile on gun legislation in Madison comes despite two major attacks in the state in the past year.
In August, a white supremacist shot six worshippers inside a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, a Milwaukee suburb, before killing himself. The man's semi-automatic handgun was legally acquired.
In October, a man killed his wife and two others at a Brookfield spa using a semi-automatic handgun he bought from a private owner. His wife had just taken out a restraining order against him days earlier that required him to turn in all his firearms.
Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, a Republican from Abbotsford, said he'll listen to ideas on cutting gun violence but "they can't go too far."
"We're not going to limit how many ammunition clips people can have," Suder said. "That is a red herring and cannot solve any gun crime."
Suder said a good way to prevent gun violence is to study mental illness. He lauded the recent creation of a lawmaker-led, bipartisan mental health task force. Gov. Scott Walker also has proposed a nearly $29 million bump in funding for mental health services, something he said was motivated in part by recent shootings in Wisconsin.
Some Democrats are drafting bills in line with Obama's recommendations, even though they acknowledge little hope of passage without support from the Republican majority.
Sen. Fred Risser, a Madison Democrat, is working on proposals to tighten background checks, prohibit weapons in certain areas of the Capitol and restrict magazines and assault weapons. He planned to bring them forward by the end of February.
Risser, a state lawmaker for more than five decades, said it might take several terms to get a bill passed.
"Many legislators don't want to get involved with hot-button issues if they don't have to," he said. "Sometimes a single (piece of) legislation just has to be introduced over and over again before timing is right."