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Governor, Wisconsin GOP leaders to meet on gun control

MADISON — Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Republican legislative leaders who have shown little interest in a pair of gun control measures touted by the governor are planning to meet next week to discuss the proposals, Evers’ spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Evers and Democratic legislators have been calling on Republicans to require background checks for nearly all gun sales and allow courts to restrict people perceived as threats from having guns in the wake of mass shootings that left 31 people dead over the weekend in Ohio and Texas.

Evers personally called Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald on Monday and both agreed to meet next week to discuss the proposals, Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said. The governor has had a tense relationship with Vos and Fitzgerald and they have met only rarely during the first seven months of Evers’ term.

The governor is hopeful the bills can win bipartisan support and pass the Legislature soon, Baldauff said.

But Vos, in messages on Twitter after Evers announced the meeting, appeared to dash any hope of that.

“I will not entertain proposals to take away second amendment rights or due process,” Vos said on Twitter . “Hopefully, we can find common ground on the real problem by addressing the mental health issues facing Wisconsin.”

Republicans in other states have gotten behind similar ideas. On Tuesday, Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine urged his state’s Legislature to pass a red flag law and introduce universal background checks following the shooting in Dayton that left nine dead.

On Tuesday, Fitzgerald called the shootings “tragic” but did not commit to taking any action.

“As we come back for the fall session, our caucus will have discussions around all newly proposed legislation like we always do,” Fitzgerald said.

Both Fitzgerald and Vos have voiced concerns about passing a red flag law, which would allow family members to petition authorities to restrict access to firearms for mentally ill people.

“I continue to be fearful of taking away anyone’s constitutional rights through red flag laws,” Vos said in a statement Tuesday.

Neither he nor Fitzgerald addressed universal background checks, which they’ve opposed in the past, or responded to questions about what other measures they may be willing to take up in response to the shootings.

Red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, are popular with gun control groups and mental health advocates in Wisconsin and nationwide. Seventeen states have adopted them, including 12 since the start of 2018.

A gun control group, the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort Educational Fund, led a coalition that presented lawmakers with a petition this year to pass a red flag law and universal background checks, but Republicans didn’t pass them.

Evers, Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul and lawmakers are all trying to keep the heat on Republicans to act now following the most recent mass shootings. Evers on Monday floated the possibility of calling a special session, saying the Legislature has avoided the issue and not taken it seriously.

“It’s clear the public expects lawmakers to do everything possible to minimize the threat of gun violence in Wisconsin and around the country,” Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said in a statement in which he also called for a 48-hour waiting period on gun purchases.

Republicans have taken action following other mass shootings.

In 2018, then-Gov. Scott Walker called a special session on school safety after a shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school in which 17 students and staff were killed. In response, the Legislature created a new office within the state Department of Justice to distribute $100 million to schools to make safety upgrades.

Democratic proposals, including universal background checks and a red flag law, were rejected by Republicans then.

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