School Safety and Gun Violence: There is more work to do

This week the Senate and Assembly, passed AB 843, a bill to address school safety. But there is much more work to do.

Several weeks ago, my Democratic colleagues and I introduced seven school safety bills. Governor Walker introduced six different bills for school safety. This past week, Democrats and Republicans found some agreement on school safety. This agreement was reflected in the vote on Assembly Bill 843, a bill that was amended in the Senate to include an agreed-upon school safety initiative.

AB 843 makes an investment of a $100 million in payments to schools to improve school safety. This money can be used to modernize entrances, for security enhancements, school safety liaison officers and many other school safety investments. Unfortunately, the money is just a one-time investment. No additional money is added in the next year. Democrats advocated for a longer term investment.

AB 843 was not exactly what I wanted. It will help schools with additional resources for preventing school violence. I supported this bill, while trying to improve it.

I know there is much more to do. Protecting our children with additional resources for school safety is an urgent concern. In addition, we need to address the root causes of gun violence –like bullying, racism, poverty, and mental health. The solutions to these challenges are as complex as the problems.

My Democratic colleagues and I tried to make improvements to AB 843. We advocated for investments for school & community mental health, support services and violence prevention and reduction grants. Such programs address non-violent approaches to conflict resolution, and reduce anger, bullying, violence and emotional loss of control.

Our proposal included a ban on any device that caused a semi-automatic weapon to fire like a fully automatic weapon. Since 1986, fully automatic weapons were illegal in Wisconsin and the rest of the US. Devices that work to increase the rapid fire of semi-automatic weapons should also be illegal.  Sometimes these devices are known as “bump stocks” but there are many other types and names for these devices. This policy should be taken up and passed by Congress.  I supported this change.

In addition, I worked to create a new universal background check system.

We need to ensure background checks are completed for all gun sales. I authored a provision in the Democratic amendment that developed a new system covering private sales of guns. My proposal created a preauthorization background check at no cost to a firearm buyer and would expire after 30 days. Working through the Department of Justice and the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) we can ensure swift, accurate and universal checks. All Senate Democrats supported my proposal and all the other parts of our amendment.

After the agreed-upon Democratic amendment failed, some of my Democratic colleagues offered an amendment to reinstate the 48-hour waiting period for hand guns. I voted to table this amendment. In 2015, Republicans and Democrats alike voted unanimously to eliminate the waiting period.

The forty-eight hour waiting period for handguns became law in 1976. Back then, it would take time to thoroughly look through paper records to determine whether someone should legally possess a handgun. Records now are easily accessible, and centralized. Background checks can take as little as ten minutes to complete and most are done in less than an hour. The repeal of the waiting period in the spring of 2015 was a relatively uncontroversial vote.

Yesterday, the Assembly passed the Senate changes to AB 843. The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk. The Assembly also took up changes to Wisconsin’s background check law. I am pleased to see parts of the universal background check amendment I authored made their way into the Assembly Republican amendment.

This amendment does not go far enough – I would not call it “universal” because it does not address private sales. But I’m pleased to see a step in the right direction. Democrats are in a deep minority in the Capitol. For now, real change happens when Democrats can work with Republicans.

Next Monday, Senate leaders will call for another Extraordinary Legislative Session. I am hopeful we will see progress on creating a universal background check that addresses private sales, using parts of the proposal I offered this week.

Thank you for your interest in protecting our children and keeping our communities safe.