By Todd Richmond
MADISON, Wis. — The top Republicans who control Wisconsin government were all but silent Wednesday about whether the state should tighten its gun laws following last weekend’s massacre at a Florida nightclub.
Some Republican lawmakers called for looser gun restrictions, even as Democrats said the laws should be tightened in light of the attack at the gay club in Orlando in which 49 people died, making it the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Since Republicans took control of the governor’s office and both legislative houses in 2011, they’ve passed laws allowing Wisconsin residents to carry concealed weapons, eliminating a 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases and permitting off-duty, retired and out-of-state police officers to carry guns on school grounds. They’ve resisted calls for tighter gun restrictions after every major mass shooting, insisting the government should instead try to prevent such attacks by doing more to treat the mentally ill.
Gov. Scott Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s offices did not respond to emails The Associated Press sent Tuesday morning and again on Wednesday morning inquiring about whether they feel the laws need to be changed.
The governor issued a statement Sunday, the day of the Orlando shooting, saying that he was praying for the victims and their families.
Asked directly whether Wisconsin gun laws need to change in a conference call with reporters during a stop on his Mexican trade mission Wednesday, the governor said first that law enforcement has to step up its anti-terrorism efforts, particularly internationally. If people see something out of the ordinary, they should report it to police, the governor said.
Walker noted, however, that France’s tight gun restrictions, which include a prohibition on fully automatic weapons, didn’t stop terrorist attacks in Paris last year.
“You’ve got people committed to terrorist acts, they’re not following the law to begin with,” Walker said.
Omar Mateen, the nightclub gunman, was an American-born Muslim who grew up in the United States and lived in Florida, according to investigators. He claimed he was aligned with the Islamic State group during the attack, but his motives remain unclear.
Vos posted a Facebook message that same day saying his thoughts were with the victims’ families and everyone should take time to pray before they start offering solutions to a problem no one understands yet. He added that people shouldn’t allow those who want to politicize the shooting to push an anti-gun agenda. He also posted a tweet from the Republican pollster Frank Luntz contending most violent crime in America involves illegally obtained guns.
Fitzgerald hasn’t issued any statements on the shooting. A check of his Twitter feed and Facebook page turned up no postings related to it.
Two of the Assembly’s most conservative Republicans told the AP that they think Wisconsin’s gun laws should be loosened.
Rep. Bob Gannon, of Slinger, said there’s no way to totally protect people in a free and open society. The state should reduce the number of gun-free zones, allow school personnel to carry a concealed weapon on school grounds and allow people to transport weapons in their car while on school grounds, all of which would make it easier for law-abiding citizens to protect their families and themselves.
Rep. Jesse Kremer of Kewaskum said state law shouldn’t be changed except to allow people to carry weapons on Wisconsin college campuses. Kremer introduced a bill this past session that would have allowed concealed weapons in college buildings. He introduced the measure after a gunman killed nine people at a community college in Oregon. The bill failed.
Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel said in a statement that his heart goes out to all victims of terror and hate, but that people should focus on the criminal’s motives, not guns.
“Unfortunately, those intent on killing will find a means to do so,” he said.
Democratic legislators have released a number of statements since the Orlando shooting demanding tighter gun control.
“How can we stand here and do nothing?” state Rep. Chris Taylor of Madison said Monday. “We can work to make our communities safer through commonsense gun safety measures or we can continue down the same path of inaction and hate-filled rhetoric that is poisoning our society.”
Investigators believe Mateen, 29, opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle during a three-hour rampage at the Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning. A SWAT team eventually shot and killed him.