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In late October, “Saturday Night Live” spoofed the second presidential debate, in which Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney fielded questions from a town hall audience. One question: “I was wondering what either of you would do to keep dangerous assault weapons such as AK-47s off the street?”

Mock Mitt answered first: “Ah, nothing.” Bogus Barack backed him up: “I would also do nothing.”

The exchange, a condensed take on the candidates’ actual noncommittal responses to a similar question, drew derisive laughter from the SNL crowd. The lack of political will on the issue of gun violence had become, in some people’s eyes, a national joke.

And then a gunman with an assault rifle murdered 26 people, mostly little children, at an elementary school in Connecticut. This atrocity, on top of other recent carnage, including two mass shootings in Wisconsin, is seen as opening the door to new gun laws.

“Timing is everything in politics and I think the timing is ripe right now,” says state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison. He favors a state ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, an end to allowing concealed weapons in the state Capitol and other public buildings, and closing the “loophole” that exempts gun shows and private dealers from running background checks.

The man who killed three people and wounded four others at a Brookfield spa in October could not legally buy a gun because his wife, one of his victims, had a domestic abuse restraining order against him. But he avoided a background check by going to a private seller.

A group of Democratic lawmakers has pledged to introduce new state gun controls. State Rep. Leon Young, D-Milwaukee, supports their cause.

“We just can’t continue on the same path,” says Young, a former Milwaukee police officer. “On a weekly basis in my district, people are being shot, people are being killed.”

But the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups remain powerful players. The NRA Political Victory Fund, a political action committee, has doled out $939,000 on Wisconsin political campaigns since mid-2008, state records show. This includes independent expenditures of nearly $168,000 in support of Walker, on top of a $10,000 direct contribution.

The NRA and Wisconsin Gun Owners Inc., a state-based group, also spent more than $200,000 on lobbying in 2011 alone.

Walker has declined to back new state bans on weapons or ammunition or tighter gun-sale rules. But he does want the state to consider arming school officials, with appropriate training — a stance similar to that of the NRA, which has called for armed guards at every school in America.

State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, a cosponsor of the state’s concealed carry law, enacted in 2011, doesn’t think the state’s guns laws will change — nor, in his view, should they.

“I think the type of people who introduce this legislation are the type of people who would vote for any anti-gun legislation over the last 10 years,” Grothman says. “They are just using this” — the Connecticut massacre — “as an excuse.”

Grothman argues that the nation’s murder rate has fallen over the past two decades, even though the number of guns has risen. He notes that Connecticut’s tougher gun laws didn’t keep the shooting from happening there, with legally acquired weapons. And he speculates that gun shows account for only “a tiny fraction” of illicit sales.

Jeri Bonavia of Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE), a nonprofit advocacy group, says such attitudes can’t withstand the rising tide of public support for modest and sensible new gun laws: “There is not going to be a tolerance for maintaining the status quo.”

That’s open to debate, but it does seem as though something has changed. When “Saturday Night Live” recently reran its show with the fake town hall debate, the exchange about gun control was edited out.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism ( collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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7 replies on “Gun law push will face pushback”

  1. Not only should there be a push back, we should get more back. Silencers, short barreled rifles, short barreled shotguns. Does it make any sense not to?

  2. Mr. Leuders writes, “And then a gunman with an assault rifle murdered 26 people ….” An ASSAULT RIFLE? Really? An M-16 is an Assault Rifle, complete with a selector switch to enable the user to fire it either single shot or multiple shot. Being a military weapon, very, very few Assault Rifles are owned by civilians, and only if made before 1986.

    Perhaps our esteemed author is thinking of an ASSAULT WEAPON, a made-up name to describe self-loading riles bearing scary-looking features that make them look like military weapons. Of course, the scary-looking features do nothing to change how the firearm functions. Please, explain what an Assault Weapon is. Is it a baseball bat? They, apparently, and according to the FBI, are used far too often for assaulting people.

    I recommend you do some reading and see what the CDC has to say about the effect of our current (20,000?) gun laws. They apparently feel all the laws really don’t do anything at all except make people feel good.

    Bottom line? Lock up, and keep locked up, violent criminals, and change our mental health laws so that those individuals posing a danger to themselves and others can more readily be contained. The nutjob in Connecticut broke, according to one report, about 41 different laws when he committed his atrocity. Gun laws didn’t stop him. A locked door didn’t stop him.

    1. You criticize the author for getting one small detail wrong, as if that destroys the credibility of everything else that follows in the piece, then proceed with what appear to be (probably supplied by the NRA)talking points, and highly questionable arguments about gun laws and violence; mental illness, guns and violence; and misrepresentations of the CDC and its conclusions, to name a few.

      1. Actually, there is no detail I’m aware of that was wrong; if there were, we would correct it. That the weapon used was an assault rifle has been widely reported, including by CBS News, CNN, the New York Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, and NBC News.

    2. It’s also highly ironic that you cite the CDC as a reference for your arguments, when the NRA has succeeded (since the mid-90’s) in killing the CDC’s funding to do research on anything related to firearms.

  3. I will say this, he better back the hell off guns. We will no longer sit by and take laws and rules when WE THE LEGAL GUN OWNERS did nothing.

    I will not tolerate even the slightest hint of a law and neither will millions of gun owners both new and old.

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