By Jason Stein and Don Walker
In the wake of failed firearms legislation in the U.S. Senate, Gov. Scott Walker and a top Republican lawmaker made clear Thursday that GOP officials will also block similar legislation in Wisconsin to expand background checks on gun sales.
The Republican governor made his comments on the state bill in a conference call from Shanghai following the Senate's rejection of the federal bill Wednesday. Walker said the state should focus on reducing violence by sticking to his budget proposal to expand funding for the treatment of mental illness.
"In Wisconsin, we have an aggressive background check system. . . . The bigger issue seems to be treating chronic untreated mental illness," said Walker, who is visiting China on trade mission.
Wisconsin requires people who purchase guns from federal licensed dealers to undergo background checks that can turn up whether a person is prohibited from owning a gun because of factors such as criminal record or mental condition. But state law doesn't regulate sales between individuals and at gun shows.
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the GOP-controlled Senate was unlikely to pass a bill that would require background checks on all sales in Wisconsin by routing them through licensed dealers.
Colorado has enacted a similar measure, and a poll by Marquette University Law School shows that 81% of registered Wisconsin voters surveyed favor background checks on sales. But influential GOP lawmakers see an expansion of those checks as a burden on gun owners that doesn't bring enough benefits.
"There is not enough support for the bill in the Senate at this time. I don't foresee us advancing gun control legislation this session," Fitzgerald said in a statement.
For weeks, Walker and Fitzgerald have said they wanted to see what Congress did on the issue of gun control before making any final decisions on background checks. Thursday's statements laid out the bill's chances in stark terms, especially since it likely has even less of a chance in the more conservative Assembly.
Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), for instance, has said the proposal would deny gun owners' constitutional rights, calling it unnecessary and a political stunt.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a co-founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said Thursday his group would keep pushing for "common-sense" gun laws such as background checks.
"These fights take a long time," he said.
As he has done before, Barrett told the story of Radcliffe F. Haughton, who was able to purchase a gun online in October and used it to kill his estranged wife, Zina, and two of her co-workers before taking his own life as well. Despite a judge's restraining order prohibiting him from possessing a gun, Radcliffe Haughton committed the murders with a firearm that he bought the day before from a private seller found through the Internet.
Zina Haughton's brother, Elvin Daniel, has said a background check would have turned up the prohibition against Radcliffe Haughton owning a firearm. Daniel said he favored the background checks legislation even though he is a hunter and member of the National Rifle Association.
"This is not about gun control. This is about gun accountability," Daniel has said. "To me, it's common sense."
The mayor also made mention of an overnight homicide in the city near N. 34th St. and W. Hampton Ave. that he had read about at JSOnline.com.
"Someone's life ended last night," the mayor said. "And the beat goes on in Washington."
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