The Sargent Voice Issue #92                                    October 10, 2017

Special Edition: Gun Violence in Wisconsin and Across America

Friends and Neighbors 

I've spent the last week searching for the right words to say about the terrorist attack in Las Vegas where nearly 60 people were killed and more than 500 were injured. I stumbled upon an article from The Onion they’ve republished repeatedly over the past several years, changing only a few key details to match our nation’s most recent tragedy:

‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

The article was published last Monday, October 2, 2017; on December 3, 2015 after San Bernardino, CA; a little over two years ago to the day on October 1, 2015 marking a shooting in Roseburg, OR; again on June 17, 2015 after a massacre at a black church in Charleston; on May 27, 2014 after a shooting near the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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The article could have just as easily been published on September 10, 2017 after a gunman killed nine people in Plano, TX, or on June 12, 2016 after a shooting in Pulse, an LGBTQ night club in Orlando, FL, or on September 16, 2013 after a shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. where 11 people died.

A mass shooting--where four or more people are shot in one incident (not including the  shooter)--happens nine out of every 10 days in the United States. Las Vegas wasn’t just a tragedy, it was an atrocity. A tragedy is what we call a misfortunate, isolated event over which we had little to no control. When our country can’t get through the days of the week twice without more than 36 people dying in mass shooting gun violence--not including gun-related deaths that aren’t mass shootings--these incidents stop being ‘tragedies’ and become ‘atrocities.’ That’s what it’s called when we know it’s happening, and know it’s preventable, but don’t do anything to stop it.

So, instead of the regularly-scheduled e-update programming, I decided to do a special edition of The Sargent Voice on gun violence, what I’m doing to try and address it, and what we can do together to prevent it in our community, our state, and our country. I, for one, am tired of elected officials offering nothing more than thoughts, condolences, and prayers. We need to stop treating gun violence as though there’s nothing we can do about it because there are steps we can take today--right now--to address gun violence even here in our community and our state.

I hope you’ll join me.
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How I'm Addressing Gun Violence in Wisconsin

Last week, I joined my colleagues, State Representatives Chris Taylor and Terese Berceau in a press conference to address the mass shooting in Las Vegas and to demand action on the gun violence public health crisis sweeping across our state and our country.

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We have to start demanding more of our elected officials in charge, and holding elected officials accountable for their actions (or lack thereof). So, here are some steps I’m taking to address gun violence in our community and our state as your state representative.

Las Vegas Mass Shooting and Gun Violence Resolution

At last week’s press conference with Reps. Berceau and Taylor, I introduced LRB-4451, an official state resolution condemning the mass shooting in Las Vegas and denouncing gun violence. Perhaps more importantly, the resolution calls safe, responsible gun ownership a matter of public interest and good public policy, and reminds elected officials of their duty to prioritize their constituents and real people over special interests and campaign donors like the NRA.

The text of the resolution is not controversial or partisan, and should be supported without any hesitation by my legislative colleagues on both sides of the aisle. You can read a copy of it here. This is the absolute minimum a Legislature can do to address gun violence by acknowledging gun violence exists and is a problem, and pledging that we’re going to do more as elected officials than offer only our condolences. LRB-4451 is being circulated for co-sponsorship right now, and the period for co-sponsorship ends on Friday, October 13, 2017.

Letter to the Congressional Leadership and President Trump 

In addition to introducing LRB-4451 at the press conference last Wednesday, Reps. Berceau, Taylor, and I, also committed to sending a letter to Congressional leadership and President Trump urging them to take concrete steps to address gun violence across our country. You can find a copy of the letter here. Although we can and must pursue action at the state level, much can and should be done at the federal level to address and prevent the gun violence epidemic in the United States. We are currently circulating this letter to our colleagues in the Legislature, and will be sending it out within the coming weeks.

Letter to Governor Walker  

Reps. Berceau, Taylor, and I are also sending a letter directly to Governor Walker asking him to take meaningful action to addressing gun violence in Wisconsin. There are several pieces of legislation in the Legislature aimed at addressing the gun violence public health crisis, most of which have been stalled and have not even been scheduled for a public hearing, and there’s also much that can be done by Governor Walker to make addressing gun violence a priority for his administration.

Our letter not only calls on Governor Walker to vocally support these legislative efforts, but to assist in moving these pieces of legislation forward at the state level to reduce gun violence, and also asks him to establish a gun safety task force comprised of health care professionals, law enforcement, researchers, and the legal community, among other stakeholders, to make policy recommendations for reducing gun violence in Wisconsin.

Bump Stock Ban Legislation 

On Thursday last week, Reps. Taylor, Berceau, Subeck, and I, along with 35 other legislative Democrats, introduced LRB-4465, a bill to ban the manufacture, sale, possession, and use of “bump-fire” stocks or “bump stocks” in Wisconsin.

Bump stocks are used to modify firearms to effectively fire automatically or in rapid succession. Semi-automatic weapons require a trigger to be pulled manually to fire each round; however, by modifying a semi-automatic weapon with a bump stock, the weapon is capable of simulating automatic firing. Bump stocks are attached to the receiver of semi-automatic weapons and use the recoil to propel the weapon backward and bounce it forward, ‘bumping’ the trigger into the unmoving trigger finger, thereby firing the weapon repeatedly.

Bump stocks effectively allow semi-automatic weapon to act perform like an automatic weapon. I have a family full of hunters and responsible gun owners--no typical gun owner needs a fully automatic weapon or a weapon modified to act like one. This legislation is commonsense and nonpartisan--even the NRA came out in support of further regulation of bump stocks last week--and several notable Republicans including Charlie Sykes and U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Tennessee) (the no. 2 Republican in the Senate) expressed their support for such a policy.

LRB-4465 is modeled after a proposal announced by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) last week. This bill does not ban any firearms, and it does not remove any firearms from anyone’s possession, it simply bans an attachment that can be attached to a semi-automatic firearm. Co-sponsorship for this bill is open until Friday, October 13th.

Firearm Self-Exclusion Program Legislation

90 people are killed each day at the hands of gun violence, but 59 of those deaths are gun-related suicides. In Wisconsin, for persons between the ages of 15 and 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death, and is in the top four leading causes of death for persons between 35 and 54. Firearms are also involved in almost half of the suicides that occur in Wisconsin annually.

LRB-3529 is modeled after programs that have existed for twenty years to assist persons experiencing compulsive gambling addiction, and creates the Firearm Self-Exclusion Program--the first of its kind in the United States--allowing persons experiencing suicidal ideation of a mental health condition to voluntarily prevent themselves from purchasing a handgun in Wisconsin. This bill would require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to create and maintain a list of persons who want to self opt into the self-exclusion program. The bill would not allow any person to enroll on another person’s behalf, nor does it remove firearms that might already be in a person’s possession.

The fact is, addressing gun violence will require comprehensive legislative efforts, including those to increase awareness and reduce stigma around suicide and the intersection of firearms with gun-related suicides. If we are truly going to address gun violence, we have to address all firearm-related deaths, and the Firearm Self-Exclusion Program is a great start.

How You Can Help Address Gun Violence in Wisconsin

Many people have reached out to me over the past week (and before that, too) asking how to help and what actions can be taken to address gun violence here in our community and Wisconsin. As a precursor, I want to direct you to the resource my office created about being engaged in our democracy. If you’re someone who is passionate about guns and wants to be engaged on this issue but hasn’t ever been actively involved before, my Democracy 101 handout can be a useful tool for how to get started.

The next thing you need to do is to make sure you know who represents you at every level. Now is the time for you to be contacting your elected leaders and demanding policy change. You can find out who represents you by going to this link and entering in your address. If your Representatives are in support of responsible gun ownership, be sure to thank them for their position. If they don’t, make sure that they know that as a voter in their district, you want meaningful action on gun violence.

Contact Your Legislators 

The best thing you can do about gun violence is to demand action from local, state, and federal legislators. Elected officials need to hear from someone other than the NRA--they need to hear directly from ordinary people who support common sense measures to promote responsible gun ownership and use, and more importantly, that those people vote. 

When you’re talking to your legislators, it’s helpful to not just mention issues generally, but to discuss specific legislation relating to the issue you care about. There are several key pieces of legislation that promote gun responsibility and safety you can contact your legislators about:

AB65 / SB34: This bill prohibits a person from selling or transferring any firearm unless the sale or transfer occurs through a federally licensed firearms dealer and involves a background check of buyer. Currently, person-to-person sales, such as those at gun shows or via the internet, do not require a federal license and are exempt from the background check requirement. Universal background checks are a vital piece of legislation  to prevent gun violence. Call your legislator and ask them to support AB65 / SB 34 and ask them to support this bill to receiving a public hearing.

AB74: This bill would require 48-hour waiting periods after a background check was requested before a firearm seller can complete the firearm sale. Waiting periods save lives, and keeps what could be a low level conflict from turning into a deadly situation. Groups like Mental Health America of Wisconsin registered in support of this bill because of its impacts on suicide prevention in states where similar legislation was passed. Call your legislator and ask them to support AB74 and ask them to support this bill to receiving a public hearing.

AB428, AB429, AB430, AB 431: This package of bills is focused on safe storage for guns in the home. This package of bills is aimed primarily at reducing firearm theft and firearm-related incidents. These bills require reporting of lost or stolen firearms within 24 hours of discovering they are lost or stolen; require firearm sellers to provide lockable containers or trigger locks for the firearm being sold; require firearm owners to store their firearms in a locked container or locking device if a person who cannot legally possess a firearm lives in the residence or if there is a child present in the home. Call your legislator and encourage them to support all four pieces of common sense legislation.

Guns on Campus: Be on the lookout for a re-introduction of Representative Kremer’s bill to allow campus carry. Guns have no place on our college campuses. As a parent with a child at UW-Madison, it is deeply troubling to me to know that there could easily be students, professors, and other faculty walking around campus with guns, especially given the prevalence of alcohol-related activities and events on campuses. This heinous bill leaves students feeling even more vulnerable knowing that their peers could be carrying a weapon with little to no training or licensure. Students at our UW system should have the opportunity to attend class without fearing for the lives of themselves or their classmates. Even in the event of a gun violence incidence on campus, having students carrying guns could make it more difficult for law enforcement to identify a mass shooter. This is a bad bill that we expect to be reintroduced in the coming months--once it is introduced, please contact your legislator and encourage them not to support this legislation.

AB 247 / SB169: The permitless carry bill is currently making its way through the Legislature and completely eliminates the requirement to obtain a permit and any training requirment to carry a gun. No, you didn't read that wrong; yes, it’s as frightening as it sounds. This legislation is extremely concerning. It eliminates the prohibition on carrying a gun on school grounds and on banning concealed weapons in a school zone. Allowing someone to carry a concealed weapon without a permit into public spaces like schools, hospitals and mental health facilities is unconscionable given the mass shootings that take place regularly in public spaces. Permitless carry doesn't make us safer, and removes even basic training requirements. Owning a gun should be something we take seriously--if this bill were passed, there’d be more requirements to driving a car than carrying a firearm in Wisconsin. Please reach out to your legislators as soon as possible and encourage them to stop this bill from moving forward.

Be a Responsible Gun Owner

I have a family full of hunters and gun owners, so I know that with gun ownership comes great responsibility. Some of the most persuasive advocates for responsible gun legislation are gun owners themselves. If you are a gun owner, you have a unique opportunity to model safe gun ownership and be an advocate for legislation that will promote safe, responsible gun ownership and use. We are beginning to see examples of this type of advocacy from gun owners across the country, and we need it here in Wisconsin, too.

Some of the legislation referenced above included mandating safer storage of gun. So many gun deaths are accidental and occur in the home and many of the victims are children with a child dying every other day from an accidental gun deaths. If you are a gun owner, you don’t need to wait for some of this legislation to pass to start making a difference, you can implement things like safe storage practices right away. Practices like using a gun safe, reporting stolen weapons, using trigger locks, and properly storing ammunition can all prevent accidents and create a culture that recognizes gun ownership and safety shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

Just as safe storage practices can help reduce gun deaths in our community, likewise, being responsible and accountable for your firearms is another important step in promoting safe gun use and ownership. According to research by the Pittsburgh School of public health, 30% of gun found at crime scenes were stolen guns, and of those guns 40% were not reported stolen until after they had been used in a crime. Reporting the theft of a weapon can help address the problem of legal guns ending up in the streets, and at least make it easier for law enforcement to hold gun violence perpetrators accountable.

Certainly there are several steps you can take to prevent gun violence every day, and I hope you will join me in doing your part to promote safe and responsible gun use in our community and across Wisconsin.

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