Attorney General Josh Kaul has taken the issue of Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws out of the State Capitol and to communities around the state. Tuesday, he was at the Appleton Police Department with area mayors and law enforcement who support passing legislation that would allow law enforcement officers and family to take firearms away from someone they believe might harm themselves or others.
Appleton Police Chief Todd Thomas said he supports the orders, also known as red flag laws, from a nonpartisan, public safety standpoint.
“Police chiefs do not have a political party. In fact, we intentionally avoid any political party affiliation, our focus is strictly on public safety,” said Thomas. “But there are some things that we should be able to reach an agreement on regardless of political affiliations … Most citizens believe that this legislation is one of those issues. These protection orders, when crafted properly, will give us a tool to make our community safer.”
Calling the right to own firearms “one of our country’s most valued constitutional rights,” he urged lawmakers to consider the issue with open minds.
“We know that there will be groups that will aggressively push back on any firearm restrictions,” Thomas added. “But the largest and frequently most unheard special interest group in Wisconsin are the survivors, the school officials, the families and law enforcement members who are frustrated by a lack of action on an issue that seems like common sense to the vast majority of us.”
Standing with Thomas and Kaul in support of such measures were Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna, Village of Wrightstown Police Chief Greg Deike, Green Bay Police Department Patrol Commander Kevin Warych, Oshkosh Police Chief Dean Smith, Menasha Mayor Don Merkes, Oshkosh Mayor Lori Palmeri and Kaukauna Mayor Anthony Penterman.
Hanna said that he and the other mayors present, all members of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, sent a letter to the governor and the legislature, signed by more than 100 municipal officials from around the state, in favor of the legislation.
“It’s what we’re hearing from our residents, about their concern, there seems to be support for doing something that’s reasonable,” said Hanna. “And so there’s just no hesitation on our part to be here today, to support our employees and law enforcement and to really speak on behalf of our citizens and say, ‘It’s time that we do something that makes sense … to make our communities safer.”
Kaul stressed that these orders are temporary (up to one year) and must be issued by a judge or a court commissioner.
“This legislation would provide law enforcement officers, family members and household members with a tool that they can use to take action and intervene and attempt to avoid a tragedy,” said Kaul. “There are common sense steps that we can take to address this problem and make our community safer, while also respecting constitutional rights. And one of those steps we can take is to pass [red flag] legislation.These are laws that are targeted, not at gun ownership in general, but at people who have been shown to be a danger to themselves or to others.”
Since the bill was unveiled in mid-September, Rep. Melissa Sargent circulated a co-sponsorship memo, which is sent to all legislators so they can sign on to the bill. The one organization currently registered to lobby on the bill is the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, in support. The most recent Marquette poll showed that 81% of Wisconsinites favor red flag laws.
Gov. Tony Evers is a strong supporter. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos strongly oppose the legislation as being anti-gun.
“It’s widely known that we believe this legislation poses threats to due process and the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” they wrote in a joint response. They offered school safety grants and improved mental health care as better avenues for dealing with gun violence.
But having the ability to do something to help someone with a mental health problem rather than taking them into custody is why Oshkosh Police Chief Smith said he backs the law.
“When you’re dealing with somebody who suffers from a mental health issue, and they’re in crisis, we need all the tools available to us that we can reach to,” said Smith. “So any additional tools that can be provided to us … when this person is in crisis is going to help us with everything that we do.”