In the wake of yet another rash of high-profile mass shootings, Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin held a news conference on Oct. 14 calling for the reinstatement of a law mandating a 48-hour waiting period before purchasing handguns.
In June, GOP lawmakers repealed the waiting-period law, which had been on the books for 40 years.
“This (reinstatement) bill is one small step in a larger effort to try to curb gun violence in our communities,” said state Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd, D-Milwaukee, in a press statement. “The 48-hour waiting period is a proven method to reduce impulsive actions by those who are looking to harm themselves or others.”
The Democratic effort, however, has virtually no chance of succeeding in Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature.
Only nine states and the District of Columbia require waiting periods for handgun purchases, ranging from three days to two weeks, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control advocacy group.
Gov. Pat Lucey signed the waiting-period bill into law in 1976 to provide a cushion of time for people to cool off before acting out violently during times of intense personal crises, such as jealous rages. The cooling-off period also was designed to discourage suicides, particularly impulsive suicides.
More than half of all deaths by suicide in the United States are carried out using firearms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, more people die of self-inflicted gunshots than shots fired by others. Although more people attempt suicide by overdose, they are successful only 3 percent of the time. Suicide attempts using firearms succeed 85 percent of the time.
“For those considering an impulsive violent act, handguns have the deadly appeal of being both highly lethal and accessible,” said state Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. “Contrary to popular belief, suicides most often take place in a relatively brief time frame of intensified vulnerability. For someone considering hurting themselves or others, the 48-hour waiting period provides a time to cool off and reconsider.”
Republicans counter that the waiting period inconveniences law-abiding citizens. They argue that the waiting period was enacted because background checks in 1976 required digging through file cards by hand. Today the state Department of Justice can perform online background checks almost instantaneously.
Wisconsin Republicans took up the repeal bill shortly after the National Rifle Association’s call in April for an end to such laws. The NRA’s legal action institute said the law had become an unnecessary inconvenience for handgun dealers and buyers.
Gov. Scott Walker signed the repeal of the waiting-period law just one week after a racist gunman killed nine African-American people attending a Bible study meeting in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Walker defended his timing, which progressives criticized.
“If we pulled back on this, it would have given people the erroneous opinion that signing the law today had anything to do with what happened in Charleston,” Walker said. “This allows Wisconsin’s law to catch up with the 21st century.”
Between 2008 and 2014, the NRA spent $3.5 million to support Walker, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Wisconsin’s Republican leadership has made the expansion of gun ownership and gun owners’ rights a priority since taking over all aspects of state government in 2010.
In June, in addition to overturning the waiting-period law, Wisconsin’s Republican majority also passed two bills expanding the state’s concealed carry law. One measure allows active-duty soldiers stationed for at least a year in Wisconsin to obtain a state concealed carry license. The other enables former police officers who worked out-of-state but now reside here to apply for a federal concealed carry license if they obtain annual training through the Wisconsin Department of Justice, sparing them a trip back to their former state to obtain the training.
Also in June, Republicans pushed through a law allowing off-duty, retired officers to carry guns at schools. The law’s chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said it would create another line of defense for students and teachers if a shooter attacks them.
Opponents said allowing non-uniformed officers to carry guns at schools could scare students and allow non-officers to carry concealed weapons without school administrators being able to interfere. They also said officers who are mentally unstable could create deadly situations in schools.