By Shereen Siewert
Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Monday called the Legislature into a special session next month to take up a pair of gun control measures that its Republican leaders have been unwilling to debate, accusing them of telling those who support the measures to “go to hell.”
The move won’t force Republicans to debate or vote on the bills, but it will force them to at least convene the special session. In his Wausau appearance, Evers pointed to a Marquette poll that showed 80 percent of Wisconsin residents support gun control legislation.
The statements were made during a news conference at Wausau City Hall. Evers is making the same announcement in other cities across the state.
Specifically, Evers is asking legislators to consider two proposals. One is a bill expanding universal background checks in Wisconsin to ensure the process is the same for everyone, he said. The second bill creates an extreme risk protection order to petition to remove guns from people who a judge deems a danger to themselves or others.
Evers said these are “common sense” proposals that keep guns out of the wrong hands. “”It is long past time we come together to prevent senseless gun violence in our communities.”
Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven also took to the podium to urge all residents to join in efforts to ensure the safety of the community. Attending neighborhood meetings, reporting suspicious activity every time, locking up firearms and being a role model for children are all ways that community members can partner with police, Bliven said.
Past efforts to bring these issues to a vote have not been successful. But Evers said legislators should have the opportunity to vote on these issues so their views are made public.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who is also running for Congress, said calling the special session “could just be the first attack on the Second Amendment. The Senate will not be part of a drawn-out strategy to infringe on constitutional rights.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has also spoken out against the bills in the past, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The special session, which is scheduled to convene Nov. 7, is the first Evers has called as governor. Special sessions have become increasingly common in Wisconsin, with 74 called since 1961. Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker called nine of them over his eight years in office, most recently in March of 2018 to take up school safety bills.
Unlike Evers, Walker had a Legislature controlled by his own party, which made it easier to get his proposals enacted into law. Walker primarily used special sessions to highlight policy proposals and propose his own solutions. Fifty laws were enacted through special sessions called by Walker.
The dynamic is different for Evers because he has to contend with a Republican-controlled Legislature that has shown little appetite for enacting his agenda. Still, by calling the special session, Evers can use his bully pulpit as governor to draw more attention to the bills.
Evers threatened to call multiple special sessions on gun control if Republicans don’t act.
“The will of the people is the law of the land,” Evers said, in his Wausau appearance. “Kids are asking us to be the adults in the room; they’re asking us to do the right thing.”
Under the red flag bill, a judge could seize people’s firearms for up to a year if they pose a threat to themselves or others. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed similar red flag laws.
Under the universal background check bill, the Wisconsin Department of Justice would conduct the checks on purchases made at gun shows, online, auctions and other sales that aren’t covered by the federal law requiring background checks on guns sold through federally licensed dealers.
Like Republicans across the country, the Wisconsin GOP has long insisted that restricting access to guns wouldn’t stop mass shootings and could infringe on Second Amendment rights. They maintain that the answer is focusing on mental health.
A Marquette University Law School poll in September showed that 80 percent of respondents support a universal background check proposal and 81 percent of people who said they have a gun in their home back a red flag law while 86 percent of people who said they didn’t have a gun in their house back it.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.