Molson Coors’ shooting rekindles gun-safety debate

By: - February 28, 2020 8:57 am
Gun control demonstrator holds sign showing assault rifle with words American Idol

A demonstrator holds a sign depicting an assault rifle at a protest against President Trump’s visit to El Paso after the mass shooting there. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A mass shooting at Milwaukee’s Molson Coors brewery on Wednesday left a community in mourning and spurred frustration among local and state officials. The shooter, 51-year-old Anthony Ferril, had been recently fired from his job at the historic Miller beer-brewing facility.

Federal and local law enforcement secured the facility using militarized tactics. Employees received emails and text messages, informing them of an active shooter on the facility’s second floor. With Milwaukee increasingly in the spotlight due to the upcoming Democratic National Convention, the mass shooting made international news.

While details emerge about the former electrician’s motivations, health struggles and issues among coworkers, state representatives are highlighting the elephant in the room.

“In response to the public health crisis of gun violence we should not be doing nothing. We should be doing everything,” tweeted Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison), “Everything possible that could mitigate this crisis. At the very least, we need to pass universal background checks and red flag laws as [Gov. Tony Evers] called for.”

Taylor’s reaction to the Milwaukee tragedy, which ended in seven people including Ferril losing their lives, drew attention to the gun control stalemate in the Legislature. Wisconsin politicians are split, with Republicans calling for more mental health funding for rural communities instead of new gun-safety laws, and Democrats claiming that to their GOP colleagues are using mental health as a front to avoid gun law reforms.

Proponents of gun safety reform, frustrated by inaction from Republicans blocking their attempts on both the state and federal level, called for change, and argued that speaking out now, after the mass shooting, was the right thing to do to respect the victims and their families and friends.

“Yesterday’s tragedy is yet another in a long line that have become too common but are no less horrifying,” said Rep. David Crowley (D-Milwaukee). “There are six grieving families in our city today. My thoughts and prayers are with them, but this community and those families — and all families that have been victims of gun violence — deserve more than thoughts and prayers.”

Crowley said he respects the wishes of those who want to avoid politics at such a time. But he feels compelled to speak out and push for changes that could stop the mass shooting epidemic in the United States.

“We talk about not politicizing a tragedy,” said Crowley, “but the tragedy is political. The tragedy is that this continues to happen, and we at the federal, state, and local levels continue to allow it to happen. Our city, these families, their friends and co-workers, are all grieving. But to talk about not politicizing a tragedy is to cheapen and normalize these horrific events.”

Crowley continued, “We need to be focusing on red flag laws as well as background checks. We need to take action. We need to do something. We do not know exactly what happened, but we know what has continued to happen in our schools, workplaces, and nearly everywhere else.”

Details are still emerging regarding claims that Ferrill faced racial harassment on the job. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report, Ferrill, an honorably discharged US Coast Guard veteran, had allegedly confided with co-workers that he suspected people he had disputes with at work were monitoring him. While the conversation made some of his co-workers question Ferrill’s mental state, employees and neighbors alike expressed shock at the violent and sudden outcome from someone they had known to be friendly and kind.

One day before the shooting, Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) invited the director of Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention Reggie Moore to the Capitol to discuss violence in the city and what his office has done to mitigate the problem. The discussion focused on local innovation, time and resources in “high-need communities” and reducing violence, particularly gun violence. The legislators are authors of a bill to create a State Violence Prevention Fund for use by municipalities.

The Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention was established to take a public health approach to addressing violence with the goal of violence reduction. Through strategic partnerships, the Office has presided over a 34% decline in fatal shootings and a 28% decline in non-fatal shootings in Milwaukee from 2015 to 2019.

“I was honored to host Director Reggie Moore at the Capitol,” said Bowen, “which tragically ended up one day before the gun violence tragedy at Molson Coors, to highlight the local progress being made by investing time and resources into high-need communities to reduce violence.”

Bowen and colleagues are currently working on creating a State Violence Prevention Fund to help tackle the problems. “I was pleased to see such a bipartisan group of more than 20 lawmakers, staffers and community members in attendance earlier this week to join us in this important and urgent conversation,” he said. “These violence prevention measures not only make our communities safer, but show that investments made on the front-end will reduce the number of violent incidents and save money on the back-end.”

As details continue to emerge about the mass shooting in Milwaukee, Crowley wants immediate action at the Capitol: “How much longer will we have to wait for the Wisconsin Legislature to make our communities safer?”

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.