Gov. Tony Evers calls for a special session on gun violence

Republicans quickly reject the idea of a legislative session on guns

Gov. Tony Evers

On Monday morning, Gov. Tony Evers issued a call for a special session to address gun violence. In it he sets the date, time and agenda for a Nov. 7 at 2 p.m. with two items he has been promoting for months. 

Evers is making good on what he and others call a promise. But Republicans have been talking about it as more of a threat. 

In the executive order he tells the legislature he is ordering them to convene, “solely to consider and act upon” the following: 

Item number one includes red-flag laws or extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) that would give family members and law enforcement officials the tools to intervene and restrict guns when people are  at risk of harming themselves or others. Evers order reads: “LRB-4383 and 4700, legislation creating extreme risk protection temporary restraining orders and injunctions preventing individuals who are substantially likely to injure themselves or others from possessing firearms and providing a penalty for violating such extreme risk protection temporary restraining orders and injunctions.”

Item number two includes background checks for all gun sales, which would close a loophole, and it reads: Requiring background checks for all gun sales: LRB-4698 and 4701, legislation creating a universal background check requirement for the sale or transfer of firearms and providing a penalty for the sale or transfer of firearms without conducting a background check.”

“Since taking office in January, I have called on the Legislature to take action and pass commonsense gun safety reform time and time again, giving Republican leadership the opportunity to hear the people of our state and to do the right thing,” Gov. Evers said in his statement. “Today I am delivering on my promise to call a special session to address gun violence across our state and I’m calling on Republicans to work with Democrats to get this done.”

The governor does not have complete control over such a session, however, as is laid out in this legislative analysis from March 2017 by Madeline Kasper and Michael Keane of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. 

“The constitution clearly authorizes the governor to call a special session, but it does not prescribe how the session should be conducted. Special session procedures have evolved over time and are now governed by legislative rules and practice,” it states in the document. The analysts also note that special sessions can begin and end over very different time periods. In Wisconsin history special sessions have gone on for just one day. And one session where the controversial Act 10 was taken up in 2011, lasted over 267 days with a record of 164 actual meeting days.

Republicans expressed strong opposition to the special session, as was expected.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

“A special session call will not change where my Assembly Republican colleagues and I stand on protecting the 2nd Amendment rights of Wisconsin citizens,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said in a statement.  “A special session call will not change where my Assembly Republican colleagues and I stand on protecting the 2nd Amendment rights of Wisconsin citizens. As I have repeatedly said, we will not entertain proposals that infringe on our constitutional rights. Today’s call is another indication that Governor Evers stands ready to confiscate guns in our state.

“Governor Evers would rather score political points than effectively govern Wisconsin, where a vast majority want their 2nd Amendment rights protected. Assembly Republicans are committed to bringing people together by working on legislation that addresses important issues affecting the state including water quality, suicide prevention, homelessness and adoption.”

state Senator Scott Fitzgerald in casual shirt next to a US flag and white porch rail
State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (courtesy of Fitzgerald for Congress)

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald released the following statement on Gov. Tony Evers’ special-session announcement:

“Liberals across the country are upping their rhetoric in support of taking guns from law-abiding citizens. After the governor opened the door to a long-term plan of gun confiscation at his press conference last month, it’s easy to see how today’s action 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.”

 Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling was the first to respond in a release: 

“Gun violence is one of the most pressing public health issues we face today and I appreciate that Governor Evers is tackling this issue head on,” said Shilling. “Too many men, women, and children have already died as a result of gun violence. Families should feel safe from the threat of deadly weapons and dangerous individuals. Action is needed to prevent more tragedies from happening.”

State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling

This response came from Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz:

“While there are no easy solutions to end gun violence in our communities, we cannot sit back and do nothing. There’s a role for state government to play, and we need to make it a priority. Failing to act on these basic public safety measures is accepting that there is nothing we can do to make our communities safer,” Hintz stated. “With six months left in the legislative session, Democrats refuse to settle for inaction. We are calling on our Republican colleagues to do the right thing and act in the best interests of the people of our state. The governor’s call for a special session on gun violence, with a focus on universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders, shows he is serious about facing this issue and reasonable in his approach. It’s important to note that the policies proposed by Governor Evers have proven to be highly effective in other states.”

Executive Order #54 is also shared below: 

EXECUTIVE ORDER #54 Relating to a Special Session of the Legislature 

WHEREAS, gun violence is a public health crisis; WHEREAS, access to a firearm triples one’s risk of death by suicide; 

WHEREAS, of all state deaths by firearm from 2013 to 2017, 71 percent were suicide deaths; 

WHEREAS, the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent; 

WHEREAS, since 2005, firearms have accounted for more domestic violence homicides than all other methods of killing combined;

WHEREAS, Wisconsinites have called on their elected leaders to take commonsense action on gun safety;

WHEREAS, under current law, someone attempting to purchase a firearm can circumvent the background check process by purchasing a firearm from an unlicensed seller; WHEREAS, a majority of gun owners and Wisconsinites across our state agree that the process should be the same regardless of what type of firearm is being purchased or where it is being purchased; 

WHEREAS, universal background checks can save lives, and they are fundamental for lowering rates of gun violence in our communities; WHEREAS, existing state law requires individuals to surrender their firearms if they are subject to a domestic violence or child abuse injunction; 

WHEREAS, an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) process would allow for the temporarily removal of firearms by an order of a judge if there is reason to believe an individual is at risk of harming themselves or others;

WHEREAS, an ERPO process would provide families and law enforcement with the tools to intervene so that those individuals can get the help and care that they need; and

WHEREAS, 80 percent of Wisconsinites support universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, TONY EVERS, Governor of the State of Wisconsin, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the Laws of the State, specifically Article IV, Section 11 and Article V, Section 4 of the Wisconsin Constitution, hereby require the convening of a special session of the Legislature at the Capitol in the City of Madison, to commence on 2:00 PM on November 7, 2019, solely to consider and act upon the following: 1. LRB-4383 and 4700, legislation creating extreme risk protection temporary restraining orders and injunctions preventing individuals who are substantially likely to injure themselves or others from possessing firearms and providing a penalty for violating such extreme risk protection temporary restraining orders and injunctions. 2. LRB-4698 and 4701, legislation creating a universal background check requirement for the sale or transfer of firearms and providing a penalty for the sale or transfer of firearms without conducting a background check. 

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great seal of the State of Wisconsin to be affixed. Done in the City of Milwaukee this twenty-first day of October in the year of two thousand nineteen.

TONY EVERS Governor

Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.

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