Wisconsin Republicans unenthusiastic about federal incentives to enact red flag laws

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Some Republican lawmakers are unmoved by the bipartisan agreement to reform the nation's gun laws, including a measure that would provide incentives to states who enact "red flag" laws.

A bipartisan group of 20 senators on Capitol Hill announced Sunday an outline of their agreement on new gun legislation in an attempt to combat gun violence.

The centerpiece of the Senate deal would provide resources to states that implement red flag laws, which allows police or family members to petition courts to temporarily remove firearms from those who pose a threat to themselves or others.

Details on the proposal have yet to be released, but a majority of Wisconsin Republicans are reluctant to any changes that would have an impact on current or new gun owners.

Instead, many Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels, support additional mental health resources and beefing up security at schools to curb gun violence.

"The difference today is that it's a societal problem," Michels said. "We have so much mental health disorders that are going unchecked. That's the root of the problem. No gun has ever jumped up by itself and shot somebody."

Michels did not directly respond to follow-up questions regarding his views on red flag laws. He instead connected the rise in gun violence to the Black Lives Matter movement where many protesters demanded cities "defund the police" amid national outrage over the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

"I think one of the biggest problems today is a byproduct of the defund the police movement, that the bad guys feel like they can get away with this stuff," said Michels. "Before we had the defund the police movement and BLM people had a lot of respect for law enforcement…and what do we have today -- we have crime running rampant."

The other Republican candidates running for governor declined to comment whether they'd consider implementing red flaw laws. Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Kevin Nicholson and State Rep. Tim Ramthun join Michels in the primary race for governor. .

Kleefisch and Nicholson have both signaled support for hiring more police officers and security guards to improve school safety after the Uvalde school shooting in Texas.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is open to arming teachers who have a background in law enforcement and using a portion of the state's $3.8 billion surplus for schools in need of security upgrades.

But when it comes to red flag laws, a majority of Republicans in the state Legislature oppose it.

State Rep. Jesse James (R-Altoona), a former police chief, said most of his caucus is against the concept of allowing judges to temporarily take guns away from someone they determine to be a threat.

"For the government to do it just because -- I have a problem with that," said James. "They need to have, just like law enforcement, probable cause to make an arrest. They need probable cause as well."

Democrats argue there's steps taken before a judge could remove someone's firearms, such as holding a court hearing to determine if someone is unfit to have a gun. Individuals who submit false petitions to courts could face a felony under the red flag law proposal Democrats introduced.

State Rep. Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay) said her patience is wearing thin over the inaction on gun reform.

"My voters want something done," said Andraca. "They are constantly looking to us to do something -- something on gun violence. We need to start talking about what steps they [Republicans] are willing to take."

Rep. James is one of the few Republicans who has introduced legislation to address mass shootings and suicides. His bipartisan bill would incentivize gun shops for temporarily storing firearms and train employees to recognize signs if someone may want to harm themselves or others.

James has authored the "gun shop project" bill for several years but it continues to face hurdles at the Capitol over funding the program.

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