Briefing memo for Capitol leaders on guns

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Memo to: Gov. Tony Evers, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

Subject: Update on Wisconsin gun laws, issues

You three leaders said you would try to meet this week to discuss potential new legislation in the wake of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

Before you meet, you may find some of this information helpful.

• What percent of Wisconsin households have guns?

Since 2012, Marquette University (MU) Law School polls have consistently found that about 45% of Wisconsin households have guns.

"That is close to national polling as well that put the percentage in the mid-40s," noted Charles Franklin, who directs the MU poll.

• How many residents over age 21 have permits to carry concealed weapons? Wisconsin began issuing CCW permits on Nov. 1, 2011.

According to the state Department of Justice, 365,886 adult residents had CCW permits as of Aug. 3. That means about one in 10 adults have been issued permits. But that certainly doesn't mean one in 10 people you encounter every day is packing a handgun.

Concealed weapons are allowed in the Capitol, unless there is a "no firearms allowed" sign on the official's office door.

Wisconsin is also an "open carry" state for shotguns and rifles.

• "Red flag" law?

Atty. Gen. Josh Kaul has called for passage of a so-called "red flag" law, which would allow the temporary confiscation of guns owned by someone a judge finds likely to harm others. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, proposed such a law in the wake of the Dayton mass shooting.

Has anyone drafted a proposed "red flag" law for Wisconsin? No.

Governor, after the Texas and Ohio shootings, you expressed interest in a "red flag" law. But, in February, you had a chance to make it part of the 2019-21 budget package you gave the Legislature. You didn't include it.

Nik Clark, president of Wisconsin Carry, said "red flag" laws are nothing but an excuse to take away guns legally owned by law-abiding citizens. Those laws "shred" the right to own weapons guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, Clark added.

Speaker Vos, after the Texas and Ohio tragedies, you Tweeted that you could not support any change that infringe on "due process" rights.

• Is there support for "universal background checks," which would close the so-called "gun show" loophole? Governor, you called for changes to require a background check before "every" weapon was sold.

Franklin said MU polls found that support for background checks "has always been above 75%."

"In 2013, it was 77% and has been slightly higher in 2016 and 2018 at 85% and 81%, respectively," Franklin said, adding:

"That is a modest difference and the main point is how unusually high support for background checks has been each time we've asked. Few issues approach such a large majority."

And, Franklin said, "Support for background checks is almost as high in households with a gun as it is in those without a gun: 78% of respondents in a gun household support background checks, as do 83% of those without a gun in the house."

Background checks are also a rare case of partisan agreement, with 76% of Republicans, 78% of independents and 86% of Democrats favoring them, according to the Marquette poll.

• Is there support to ban "assault-style" weapons, which were outlawed by federal law until 2004?

MU polls have found less support for that: A "consistent majority" of about 54% in favor, with 42% opposed, Franklin said.

He added:

"On this issue people in gun households do differ from those without guns. Those with a gun oppose a ban, 52%, while 45% favor a ban. In contrast those in households without a gun favor a ban, 66%, with only 31% opposed."

And, Franklin said, "There is also a partisan split. 64% of Republicans oppose a ban, while 54% of independents and 76% of Democrats favor a ban on assault-style weapons."

• How politically active is the National Rifle Association (NRA) in Wisconsin?

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported that, between 1998 and 2018, the NRA spent more than $5.5 million backing Republican candidates.

That included NRA spending last year to re-elect two Republicans, Gov. Scott Walker and Atty. Gen. Brad Schimel. Neither will be at any Capitol meeting on gun issues this week.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at

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