A proposal in 2006 to let school employees carry concealed weapons popped up five days after a 15-year-old student shot and killed Weston High School Principal John Klang.
Then-state Rep. Frank Lasee, R-Bellevue, in his rush to find support for his proposal, claimed that Israel and Thailand had kept children safe by arming teachers and that weapons in schools “can work in Wisconsin.”
The reaction was swift and fierce.
According to an Oct. 5, 2006, news release attributed to Jeri Bonavia, executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, Lasee’s plan was “warped.”
“Almost every time there is a terrible tragedy involving gun violence,” according to the release, “one of the gun lobby’s favorite legislators comes out clamoring about the need for more guns.”
Lasee backed off his idea as quickly as he had proposed it. The bill died.
But the pattern of quick reactions, followed by weak legislation or outright failure, continues. Major crimes spark plenty of ideas, but those that avoid the fate of Lasee’s give-them-guns debacle usually do not lead to significant change.
Following a string of 2012 shootings in Wisconsin, Colorado and Connecticut, several mental health bills passed the Wisconsin Legislature. They became law in April, creating crisis response teams and providing grants to encourage psychiatrists and doctors to work in underserved areas.
Nothing was done to change Wisconsin’s gun laws. The mental health laws will do little to curb violence.
The U.S. Department of Justice put out a report in March 2000 on reactionary legislation, specifically the effects of “Three Strikes and You’re Out” laws that mandated increasingly tougher prison terms for repeat offenders. The idea followed the 1988 death of Diane Ballasiotes, a Seattle woman murdered by a convicted rapist who had been released from prison.
According to the report, however, “this form of legislation was carefully crafted to be largely symbolic” and had no effect on crime rates. So why do politicians waste our time on limp proposals in the wake of tragedies? Because it is easier than fighting for real change.
If 20 Connecticut grade-school children gunned down with an assault weapon cannot push a proposed ban on assault weapons through the U.S. Senate, then there is little hope for other direct-effect laws. Lobbyists, in particular gun lobbyists, are powerful foes.
As Lasee learned, tiptoeing around a problem is a lot easier than sprinting toward a solution. His proposal was flawed, particularly his distortion of Israel’s guns-in-schools policies, which are much more about terrorism than random school shooters.
But at least Lasee had the nerve to try.