The wide availability of 3D printers and detailed instructions on fabricating firearms of nearly any kind makes it nearly impossible to close off the supply of guns in our society. But Wisconsin could do much better than it does not. We could follow other states in banning retail sales of assault weapons; require a background check and waiting period before any initial sale or transfer of any firearms and ammunition (closing the “gun show loophole”), limit firearm purchases to one per person every 90 days, and give localities authority to impose further safety standards on gun acquisition, fabrication, or use.
What’s the Problem Addressed?
The NRA is quite right that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But making it very easy for untrained, angry, unstable, or depressed people to get their hands on all kinds of guns surely increases gun violence, and making it harder reduces that violence. If we want a Wisconsin safer from gun violence, of course we need to make policing less racist, poverty less permanent, opportunity more available, communities more secure, and, as individuals in a shared society, become mindful and compassionate of one another. But we should also slow down the mindless acquisition of guns. Wisconsin gun homicide rate has increased 15.6% since 1991, the seventh-highest increase in the nation over that time (see figure above). 1
Wisconsin’s biggest source of gun fatalities – aka “people killing people by shooting them with guns” – is not homicide or accident, but suicide. Its 72% share of Wisconsin gun deaths is a fifth higher than the 60% national average, increasing, and particularly frequent among rural men.2 Suicide is a temporary risk; most who attempt it start thinking of doing it only minutes before.3 The way to get beyond the impulse to it, like most impulses to self-harm, is sympathetic listening and a bit of steadying fellowship. But it helps too to remove the means, so that temporary mental health crisis cannot become an irreparable tragedy. Here, considering gun policy, it’s instructive that many deaths by suicide follow very recent purchase of the gun used4 and that greater access to firearms, not economic condition, is what drives the difference between rural and urban suicide rates.5
Wisconsin’s history of sportsmanship and responsible firearms use has given our state a strong foundation of responsible gun laws. We include mental health in our national background check reporting data, we regulate licensed gun dealers and require them to conduct background checks, and we have a process for surrender of firearms in situations of domestic violence.6 But we do not have certain laws that we know reduce death by gun: limits on assault weapon purchase, waiting periods, universal background checks, and other safety-minded local regulation. We should.
How OWR Proposal Addresses It
Especially taken together, the elements in our program to reduce gun violence have proven effectiveness in reducing it, at no harm to recreational use in hunting or self-defense.
Who Else is Doing This?
Many states, such as Minnesota, Florida, Maryland, Hawaii, and Iowa have waiting periods for gun sales: these states had 51% fewer gun suicides and a 27% lower overall suicide rate than states without waiting period laws. Further evidence for waiting periods as a method of suicide prevention is provided in the negative: when South Dakota repealed its 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases in 2009, overall suicides the following year increased by 7.6%.7
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington state and Washington DC have all closed the gun show loophole by requiring background checks for purchase of all firearms, whether they are purchased from a licensed dealer or an unlicensed seller on the secondary market. States that closed this loophole saw results: between 2009 to 2012, states that required background checks on all handgun sales or permits had 35% fewer gun deaths than states without background check requirements.8
Nationally, the federal assault weapons ban (AWB) prevented the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity ammunition magazines from 1994. The bill was signed by a Republican president, and although it contained several loopholes that limited its effectiveness, it was an important step in reducing gun violence. When the Federal AWB expired in 2004, Republicans in Congress refused to renew it.9 But some states have taken a stand for common sense and public safety. California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Washington DC have passed assault weapons bans, and many of these states have also banned ammunition clips with holding more than 10 bullets.10 So far, these laws have survived court challenges questioning their constitutionality.11 Both state and federal assault weapons bans have been found to reduce mass shooting deaths at a statistically significant level. 12
Why Not Wisconsin?
Wisconsin repealed its 48-hour firearms purchase waiting period in 2015, and while overall suicides in the state have been declining since the repeal, gun suicides have continued to increase and remain significantly above the national average.13 The Walker administration supported the repeal, and will likely fight the reimplementation of waiting periods and any other legislative efforts to reduce gun homicides.
The federal assault weapons ban legislation that Congress let lapse was popular in Wisconsin: 73% of likely voters in Wisconsin supported its renewal, and 52% did so strongly favored. 60% of Wisconsin NRA supporters favored renewing the ban, as did 77% of current and former military and military families in. Only one in five (20%) opposed renewing the federal assault weapons ban.14
After the recent wave of school shootings, Scott Walker (who has an “A” rating from the NRA) has shifted his stance on gun control and now says that something must be done to protect schools. However, Walker refuses to say how he would keep Wisconsinites safe from gun violence.15