GOP lawmaker renews calls for gun shops to store firearms, train employees to recognize threats

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- In an effort to prevent suicides and mass shootings, a Republican lawmaker is reintroducing legislation to incentivize gun shops to temporarily store firearms and train staff to recognize signs if someone may want to harm themselves or others. 

Rep. Jesse James (R-Altoona) is introducing the bipartisan bill after a series of shootings in Atlanta, Boulder and Oconomowoc.

“In light of what’s happened, I think it’s perfect timing,” said Rep. James. 

The proposal would provide grants to gun shops who voluntarily lock up guns of those who might be a danger to the community or themselves. Gun shop owners could receive up to $5,000 under the proposal, which also would be used towards suicide prevention training for staff to recognize someone who might be considering taking their own life. 

“Even if it changes one person’s outcome to where they don’t choose to take their gun and die by suicide, that’s a win right there,” James said. 

The goal is not only to prevent suicide, but to prevent shootings such as the man who opened fire at Roundy’s distribution center, killing two co-workers before turning the gun on himself. 

Most Republicans for years have opposed changing state gun laws, but the proposal did receive bipartisan support last year and passed the Assembly. It never received a vote in the Senate due to the coronavirus outbreak.

State Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) supports the proposal to remove guns from those who might be a threat, but also doubts it would make a difference.

“Anytime we can help someone to make it through a tough time in their lives, absolutely I support, but that is not going to solve this issue.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and other members in his caucus don’t believe there’s much the state can do to prevent mass shootings, but some have voiced support for proposals to address the mental health side of these tragedies.

“I think until we get people’s hearts in the right place where they learn resilience, problem solving skills, these things are going to keep happening, because it’s the poison in people’s hearts that cause them to respond this way,” said Rep. Barbara Dittrich (R - Oconomowoc).

Democrats would rather see what’s called “red flag” laws, which would allow judges to take guns away from someone they determine to be a threat. There are also renewed calls for universal background checks, a priority for the Evers administration, but both continue to face opposition from top Republicans. 

“The idea that we can't do anything and that we can't do anything for unfounded reasons, you know, is absurd,” said Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh). "I think most of the public does not think violent felons should be able to purchase firearms and get them in their hands.”

A majority of Wisconsin voters, 80%, support requiring background checks on all gun purchases according to a 2019 poll by Marquette University Law School. 

Speaker Vos believes the state already has a “system in place where the vast majority of weapons already go through that background check,” but gun sales between two people in person, online or who exchange firearms at a gun show don’t require one. 

Gov. Evers called for a special session in 2019 for lawmakers to consider approving red flag laws and expanding background, but Republicans ended the session within seconds.

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