Ready for some good, positive, optimistic news about state government?
Here it is: Some members of the Wisconsin Legislature are going where no one from that institution has gone for years, into the terra incognita of bipartisan cooperation and gun control.
If that sounds too good to be true, it still might be—if the gun lobby instructs its devoted minions in the Legislature to block this small but promising step toward quelling gun violence. But a bill reacting to the plague of death and injury by gunshot in Milwaukee has a chance to survive, owing to the solid bipartisan sponsorship by Sens. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) and Reps. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) and David Bowen (D-Milwaukee).
The bill would make possessing a gun a felony for people who have three misdemeanor convictions in five years. Buying a gun with the intent of giving it to someone who can’t legally possess a firearm would also be a felony under the bill.
These measures are needed because crime in Milwaukee is caused not only by criminals but also by the boundless abundance and easy availability of guns that so often make bad deeds deadly.
The bill also seeks to limit access to guns by those not legally entitled to have them by making lying about being a straw buyer on forms required to be signed by purchasers a felony.
It’s no surprise that Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn is a big supporter of the bill. His officers have to confront the butcher’s bill for this violence on an almost daily basis, not to mention facing the possibility of becoming victims themselves. The bill would make Milwaukee “safer by prohibiting career criminals who currently may legally carry a firearm from carrying on in the future,” the chief said.
Besides furnishing law enforcement with a tool with some potential for effectiveness in combating gun mayhem, passage of the bill could show the way for future efforts aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those likely to use them for crime.
The issue of guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens is settled. State laws permitting concealed-carry are virtually universal. Save for a federal statute limiting ownership of fully automatic guns, people who aren’t felons are allowed to own any kind of firearm they want, from sporting arms to the deadliest semiautomatic assault rifles and handguns with high-capacity magazines. In American history, the right to bear arms has never been more secure. Only the likes of the National Rifle Association, whose existence as a well-funded gun lobby depends on convincing gun owners they are in danger of having their firearms confiscated by the government, would say otherwise.
The focus, then, has to be on keeping some of the 300 million-plus guns in America out of the hands of those whose behavior shows they might use them to commit crimes, including convicted criminals and mentally disturbed people such as those responsible for recent mass shootings.
That is what the public, including the gun-owning public, wants.
Polls of gun-owners have found that majorities want universal background checks for gun purchasers and tighter regulation of gun sellers, including those who sell guns off the books at gun shows.
Given the public support for gun limits targeted at miscreants, the chances for passage of the bipartisan criminal gun-control bill should be good. That’s assuming the gun-rights zealots of the Legislature, like those who have pushed for legislation to allow guns in schools and airports, aren’t called to resist by the NRA.