Democratic lawmakers called for a hard look at what could be done in Wisconsin to help prevent mass shootings in the wake of the Connecticut school rampage, but Republicans were conspicuously silent on what, if anything, state policy makers should do.
Republican leaders in the state Senate and Assembly, both controlled by the GOP, didn’t return messages, and Gov. Scott Walker’s spokesman declined comment.
On Friday, Walker said it was too soon to think about how the Connecticut shootings, which left 20 children dead, could have been prevented.
“We just want to let people grieve,” said Jeff Nass, president of Wisconsin Force, a National Rifle Association-chartered organization.
Wisconsin Democrats spent the day calling for action but offered few specifics, while their counterparts in Washington demanded an assault rifle ban and provisions to make it harder for the mentally ill to obtain weapons.
Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said he planned to talk to Walker about forming a bipartisan commission to examine gun violence. He said the commission should find ways to detect and block the mentally ill from obtaining weapons.
But he stopped short of calling for a ban on assault weapons, saying he wants to see whether President Barack Obama’s administration makes any moves and what the Wisconsin commission might recommend.
“Now is not the time for politics,” Barca said in a statement. “Now is the time for us to come together and work with mental health experts, law enforcement professionals, educators, clergy and others to have an important discussion about this very serious issue.”
Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, was vague on specifics but said he was working on legislation that would deal with assault rifles, possibly ban disintegrating ammunition and limit the mentally ill’s ability to obtain guns.
He acknowledged an assault weapon ban would be difficult to get past the NRA, but thought an ammunition prohibition and tighter mental health standards for firearm owners might have a chance.
“I want it on the table,” he said. “So at least people can talk about it.”
Similar questions are being asked around the country since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Authorities are trying to figure out why the 20-year-old gunman – who killed his mother, then 20 children and six adults at the school before taking his own life – targeted the school while armed with an assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
It was the latest in a spate of mass shootings across the country, including two recent attacks in Wisconsin.
In August, a white supremacist opened fire inside a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, a Milwaukee suburb, killing six people before killing himself during a firefight with police. Two months later, a man killed his wife and two other women at a Brookfield spa using a semi-automatic handgun he bought the day before from a private owner. His wife had just taken out a restraining order against him days earlier that required him to turn in all his firearms. He also killed himself.
In 2007, a Forest County sheriff’s deputy used his service assault rifle to kill six people in less than a minute at a party in Crandon before committing suicide. A year earlier, a 15-year-old boy brought guns to Weston Schools in Cazenovia and killed principal John Klang.
“How many times are we going to have elected officials say how sorry they are after a mass shooting and then do absolutely nothing about it?” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Walker in last spring’s recall elections, said in a telephone interview. “When is enough going to be enough?”
Weston Schools Superintendent Tom Andres said the Connecticut shootings brought back terrible memories of what happened to Klang. He said he doesn’t understand why someone needs high-capacity magazines but cautioned against what he called knee-jerk calls for tighter gun regulations.
He said policy makers should take a comprehensive approach. Schools need money to retain police liaison officers and guidance counselors who can identify children posing potential threats, he said. Parents need to pay attention to their children and monitor how much violence they see in video games and other media, he added.
“The community has to buy into that and say that’s what we’re willing to do,” Andres said. “It’s just sometimes we get a little neglectful and think it’s never going to happen here.”
“Too many small schools throughout the United States have had to deal with it,” he added. “We need to address the root cause of this.”