Wisconsin governor says he would mull mandatory gun buybacks

September 20, 2019

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, center, speaks during a press conference announcing new gun safety reform legislation, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in the Governors conference room in Madison, Wis.

MADISON Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said Thursday that he would consider requiring assault weapon owners to sell such guns back to the government, sparking an instant backlash from Republican legislators.

The GOP's top leaders said Evers finally revealed what they believe is Democrats' true goal of disarming legal gun owners. They promised that he would never succeed as long as Republicans control the Legislature.

"With Governor Evers considering confiscating firearms from law-abiding citizens, it shows just how radical Democrats have become," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a joint statement.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke has been pushing for mandatory assault rifle buybacks over the last few weeks. O'Rourke's hometown of El Paso was the site of a mass shooting in August that left 22 people dead.

Republicans have balked at the idea of forcing people to give up their assault weapons. Even some Democrats have resisted, saying O'Rourke's stance could make it harder to negotiate on gun control legislation with President Donald Trump.

Wisconsin Democrats have been working to signal to supporters that they're trying to stiffen gun control laws after a string of mass shootings around the country in August, including the El Paso attack, an attack in Dayton, Ohio, and an attack in Odessa, Texas. Assault-style rifles have been the weapons of choice in many mass shootings, including those three in August.

They introduced a universal background check bill last month and unveiled a red flag measure Thursday. That bill would allow a judge to seize people's firearms for up to a year if they pose a threat to themselves or others. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed similar red flag bills.

During a news conference in which the governor touted the red flag bill, he was asked if he supports mandatory buybacks of assault rifles. Evers tried to avoid answering directly, saying he's focused on the red flag proposal and the universal background check bill. Asked if that meant he didn't support buybacks, Evers responded: "I'd consider it."

Even though some Democrats have refused to embrace the idea of mandatory buybacks, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke tweeted that at least Evers was being honest about Democrats' agenda. He followed that up with a statement saying mandatory buybacks would never happen as long as Republicans control the Statehouse.

"This morning's candid comments from Governor Evers only further illustrate that without a strong, Republican-led Legislature, the idea of involuntary seizure of firearms could easily become a reality in Wisconsin," Steineke said.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes came to Evers' defense, tweeting that Republicans are "aggressively misleading the public" about Evers' agenda. He didn't elaborate in the tweet.

Later Thursday, Evers declined to answer follow-up questions about buybacks as he left the Capitol rotunda.

Like Republicans across the country, the Wisconsin GOP has long insisted that restricting access to guns wouldn't stop mass shootings and could infringe on Second Amendment rights. They maintain the answer is focusing on mental health.

Republicans who deviate from that stance could open themselves up to primary challengers. Fitzgerald is running to represent a conservative swath of southeastern Wisconsin in Congress. It's unclear whether he will face any primary opponents but any moves that make him look like he supports any gun control measures could spur opponents to jump into the race against him.

Vos and Fitzgerald said in August they don't support the background check bill and said in their joint statement Thursday that the red flag bill would violate due process and the constitutional right to bear arms. They noted Republicans passed a bill last year creating $100 million in school safety grants.

Vos voted for a bill in 2014 that allows physically or mentally disabled people at risk of being abused to petition a judge to force an abuser to surrender his or her guns. The measure cleared the Senate on a voice vote, which means there was no roll call that would show how Fitzgerald voted, but as majority leader he could have blocked the bill from reaching the floor.

Vos and Fitzgerald aides didn't immediately respond to emails asking why they supported that bill but not the Democrats' red flag proposal.

Thursday marked the anniversary of a shooting at a software company in the Madison suburb of Middleton, in which an employee wounded four of his co-workers before police stormed the building and killed him.

Wisconsin lawmakers introduce medical marijuana bill

MADISON, Wis. A group of lawmakers launched another push Friday to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin, introducing a bill that would allow patients to use the drug if they register with the state and create a licensing system for growers.

Thirty-three states, including neighboring Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois, have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and 11, including Illinois, have legalized it for recreational purposes.

The Wisconsin bill's authors, Sens. Jon Erpenbach and Patrick Testin and Rep. Chris Taylor, said in a joint statement that the time has come to lift the state's restrictions. Erpenbach and Taylor are Democrats. Testin is a Republican.

"Doctors and patients, not government, should decide if cannabis is the right treatment," Testin said.

Democrats have tried to get some form of marijuana legalization passed in every legislative session for the past decade. Despite Testin's support, the latest bill faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he's been open to legalizing medical marijuana for years and wants to work on the issue this fall. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said he doesn't support it. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed legalizing medical marijuana in the state budget but Republicans removed the provisions from the final spending plan.

Fitzgerald's spokesman, Alec Zimmerman, had no immediate comment on the bill. But Fitzgerald's position is unlikely to change; he's running for Congress next year in a traditionally conservative southeastern Wisconsin district and signaling support for marijuana could motivate potential primary challengers.

Under the bill, patients looking to use marijuana for medical purposes would have to join a new state Department of Health Services registry. To qualify for the registry, a person would have to be suffering from any of a wide range of ailments, including cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe pain and chronic disease. A doctor would have to diagnose the ailment and explain the potential risks and benefits of medical marijuana to the registrant before he or she could join the list.

Applicants would have to pay a $250 registration fee and an annual $250 fee. The registry would be sealed to the public. People convicted of a violent felony wouldn't be allowed to join it.

The bill also would set up a licensing system for medical marijuana growers through the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. A grower would be defined as someone who grows more than a dozen marijuana plants. Applicants would have to pay a $250 initial fee and a $5,000 annual fee. Licensees would be prohibited from growing marijuana for personal or family use.

Evers tweeted Friday that he supports the bill, pointing to a Marquette University Law School poll from April that found that 83% of respondents supported legalizing medical marijuana.

"It's time for Wisconsin to do the right thing and allow doctors to prescribe medication that's best (for) their patient and their families," Evers wrote.


Associated Press