Assembly Republicans come out with guns blazing in first session of 2022

By: - January 20, 2022 5:23 pm
person in jeans holding a hand gun behind his back taken from behind

handgun by Getty Images

Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly passed a number of bills on Thursday that loosen the state’s gun laws, allowing guns to be carried on school grounds and in places of worship and for people younger than 21 to carry concealed firearms. 

The bills were all passed by Republicans in voice votes in the Assembly’s first floor session of 2022. The bills’ authors said they were just trying to protect the Second Amendment rights of Wisconsinites, but Democrats said the actions put communities at risk. 

“I’m a mom, I’m a teacher and I’m a gun owner,” Rep. Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay) said in a pre-session news conference of the Democratic caucus. “I have my concealed carry permit and my basic handgun certification. I support the Second Amendment right to own guns for hunting, sport and for personal protection. But I can also tell you from personal experience, guns do not belong in, or anywhere near, schools.”

The bills passed by the Assembly on Thursday include AB-495, which allows for a person with a concealed carry permit to bring a firearm in their vehicle onto school grounds; AB-498, which lowers the minimum age to be eligible to carry a concealed weapon from 21 to 18 and AB-597, which allows people to carry firearms onto the grounds of a place of worship. 

A Democratic amendment to AB-495 that would have required background checks for gun sales in the state failed on a 60-36 vote. 

Democrats were quick to point out that the combination of these bills, which are assumed to be headed for a veto from Gov. Tony Evers, would make it possible for a high school senior, with a not-yet fully developed brain, to bring a firearm to school. 

“I don’t know about you but I don’t want to make it possible for an 18-year-old senior who is maybe having a fight with his friend or had a bad day at football practice or is stressed out, I do not want that young person to be able to have a firearm on school property, at a practice, at a restaurant where they’re fighting with their girlfriend,” Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton) said. “They are not thinking with a part of the brain that makes rational decisions and thinks about long term consequences.

Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers), the author of the bill to allow 18-year-olds to conceal carry, suggested Democrats wanted to take away all of the rights of people under the age of 21. 

“I’m curious what other rights some people on the other side of the aisle would like to deny 18, 19 and 20-year-olds,” Sortwell said. “I don’t understand why we believe that treating people differently under the law is somehow acceptable.”

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Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) said in the pre-session news conference that the bill allowing people to carry firearms inside places of worship was “especially disturbing” coming so soon after four people were held hostage by an armed man inside a Texas synagogue. 

Wisconsin has also had violence inside places of worship. In 2012, six people were killed in a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek. 

“These bills are not about making our schools safer,” Subeck said. “They are not about making our churches or synagogues or mosques or other places of worship safer. These are about appealing to the big gun lobby, to extreme members of their party and they’re about sowing the seeds of political divisiveness. If you want to prevent the kind of incidents that we’ve seen, both in schools and in places of worship, let’s deal with the issues of racism and antisemitism. Let’s address the serious mental health concerns of our children. Let’s address the root causes of gun violence. Let’s not bring more guns into these situations.”

Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) said Republicans taking time to pass these bills distracts from real problems facing the people of Wisconsin. 

“It is our first day on the floor in this calendar year and we are in the middle of a troubling wave of COVID-19 that is filling our hospital beds, disrupting our kids’ education, and threatening our economic recovery,” Neubauer said in her first floor speech as minority leader. “It’s left people feeling uncertain about what the future holds about what they can count on. I would like to be able to tell them that their representatives are busy in Madison addressing the urgent issues that they’re dealing with. But I can’t do that, because I don’t believe that that’s true. The bills we have in front of us today do not get at the root causes of the challenges we face as a state.”

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.

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