By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers on Monday called the Legislature into a special session next month to take up a pair of gun-control proposals that Republican leaders have been unwilling to debate, accusing them of telling those who support the legislatin to “go to hell.”
The special session won’t force Republicans to debate or vote on the bills, but it will force them to at least convene. That gives Evers and Democrats a chance to put a spotlight on their gun-control proposals, which a Marquette University Law School poll found last month had more than 80% support.
Evers, at a news conference in Milwaukee surrounded by anti-gun violence advocates, Mayor Tom Barrett, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Democratic lawmakers, said the Republicans who are unwilling to take up the bills were choosing “weakness over common sense.”
“How many times can you go against 80% of the people of the state of Wisconsin and essentially tell them to go to hell and expect to be re-elected?” Evers said of Republicans. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican who is also running for Congress, said calling the special session “could just be the first attack on the Second Amendment. The Senate will not be part of a drawn-out strategy to infringe on constitutional rights.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has also spoken out against the bills in the past, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Evers wants the Legislature to take up a bill that would require universal background checks for most handgun purchases. He’s also calling on them to vote on a “red flag” bill that would give judges the power to take weapons away from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.
The special session, which is scheduled for Nov. 7, is the first Evers has called as governor. Special sessions have become increasingly common in Wisconsin; 74 have been called since 1961. Former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, called nine of them in his eight years in office, most recently in March of 2018 to take up school-safety bills.
Unlike Evers, Walker had a Legislature controlled by his own party, which made it easier to get his proposals enacted into law. Walker primarily used special sessions to highlight policy proposals and propose his own solutions. Fifty laws were enacted through special sessions called by Walker.
The situation is different for Evers because he has to contend with a Republican-controlled Legislature that has shown little desire to enact his priorities. Still, by calling a special session, Evers can use his bully pulpit as governor to draw more attention to his gun-control proposal.
Evers threatened to call more than one special session on gun control if Republicans don’t act.
“We need an up or down vote,” he said. “We have to get this done, folks.”
Evers has threatened for months to call the special session, as Republican legislative leaders showed no interest in taking up the bills during their regular session, which runs through next spring. He and other Democrats say the gun restrictions are needed in light of the many mass shootings in the U.S.
Under the red-flag bill, a judge could take firearms for up to a year from people who pose a threat to themselves or others. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed similar red-flag laws.
Under the universal background check bill, the Wisconsin Department of Justice would conduct checks on purchases made online and at gun shows and auctions and in other situations that aren’t covered by the federal law requiring background checks on guns sold through federally licensed dealers.
Like Republicans throughout 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 that the answer is paying more attention to mental health.
A Marquette University Law School poll in September showed that 80% of respondents support a universal background check proposal and 81% of people who said they have a gun in their home back a red flag law and 86% of people who said they didn’t have a gun in their house back it.