Killings at brewery do little to change Wisconsin politics

Political
Tony Evers

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks to Milton High School students Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Milton, Wis. (Angela Major/The Janesville Gazette via AP)

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s latest mass shooting, which left six people dead at one of the world’s largest breweries, appears to have done little in the politically polarized state to budge Republicans who expanded access to guns over the past decade.

Milwaukee police say a 51-year-old employee of Molson Coors Brewing Co., which for decades operated as Miller Brewing, opened fire on his co-workerson Wednesday afternoon, killing five before he turned the gun on himself. It was the nation’s fourth mass killing of the year.

The shooting took place less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the venue that will host theDemocratic National Conventionin five months. Democratic presidential candidates weighed in on the shooting, with several reiterating their calls for tougher gun laws. President Donald Trump called the shooting a “terrible thing,” but he and other Republicans, including in Wisconsin, did not advocate for any changes to the law.

Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016 and defeating him in the key swing state in November is a priority for Democrats. They see gun control as a winning issue, with numerous polls showing broad public support for the bills that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has unsuccessfully touted to the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Evers told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that he’s pessimistic the latest shooting will cause Republicans to reconsider their position against stricter gun laws.

“As leaders, we have to pray and give our heartfelt condolences to people that pass away but, at the same time, we have an obligation as leaders to think about what solutions exist,” Evers said in a telephone interview. “I think the people of Wisconsin deserve that too.”

Just before the shooting, Evers had renewed his call for the state Legislature to take up the bills that would enact a universal background check for gun purchases and institute a “red-flag” law allowing judges to confiscate guns from people determined to be a risk to themselves and others. Seventeen states have passed red flag laws and 21 have similar universal background check laws.

Both the state Senate and Assembly in Novemberquickly adjourned a special session on Evers’ bills with no debate. Roughly an hour before Wednesday’s shooting, the leader in the state Senate reiterated that Republicans had no intention of taking up the bills.

“They’ve dug in their heels and it’s unfortunate,” Evers told AP. “The people of Wisconsin expect better and I’m hopeful they’ll change their mind but I’m a pessimist. On big votes the people of Wisconsin lose out because they don’t know where their legislators stand.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said before the shootings: “We’re going to have that discussion about the Second Amendment forever. A lot of the provisions that are in place already, people are satisfied with.”

Between 2011 and 2019, under then-Gov. Scott Walker, he and fellow Republicans greatly loosened Wisconsin’s gun laws. They legalized concealed carry —- Wisconsin was the second-to-last state to allow it — removed a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases, passed a “castle doctrine” law giving homeowners more legal protections if they shoot an intruder, and allowed off-duty, retired and out-of-state police officers to carry firearms on school grounds.

In 2018, in reaction to a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, Walker signed a $100 million plan to increase safety at schools that made grants available for better locks, security cameras and other upgrades.

Evers ran in support of gun control measures in his campaign against Walker in 2018. After the Republican-controlled Legislature ignored his gun safety bills and following shootings on consecutive days at Wisconsin high schools, Evers pivoted, urging lawmakers in December to increase funding for mental health services. That was something Republicans had supported in the past, but Evers’ call to spend nearly $23 million on school-based mental health services has been met with silence in the Legislature.

“We proposed, frankly, the minimal amount of reasonable, common sense solutions,” Evers said. “The people of Wisconsin deserve a vote.”

The Republican Fitzgerald, who is running for Congress, did not mention the possibility of taking another look at tougher gun laws in his statement after the shooting. He called the shooting “an act of evil.” Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has stood united with Fitzgerald against the gun bills, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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