MADISON, Wis. (WMTV/AP) - The Republican leader of the Wisconsin Senate gaveled into a special session on gun control and ended it 30 seconds later.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald took the action in an empty Senate chamber Thursday night shortly after 8 p.m. He has long opposed the special session called by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to pass a universal background check and "red flag" bill.
Gov. Tony Evers, the state attorney general, gun control advocates and Democratic lawmakers all urged Republicans to vote on the bills. But Republicans ignored them.
The Assembly planned to take similar action, quickly convening and adjourning the special session, later Thursday night.
Democrats say Republicans are ignoring what the public wants and putting public safety at risk.
Evers says Republicans in the Legislature just told a majority of Wisconsin residents to "go jump in a lake" by not voting on a pair of gun control measures.
Evers cited polls showing more than 80% support for the issues and said Republicans didn't have the courage to take a vote. Evers says Republicans "did so at their own peril" because now they have to explain their action to voters.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos accused Evers of playing politics and said he wasn't going to vote on bills he knew wouldn't pass.
After beginning and ending the session to an empty Senate Chambers, Fitzgerald released a statement:
“In recent months we’ve seen liberals across the country run on a platform of support for gun confiscation, and Governor Evers himself has left the door open on backing similar proposals. I’ve said all along that the Senate would not go along with the governor’s plans for this special session.”
Gun control advocates rallied in Madison ahead of the special legislative session on gun restrictions.
Groups including Moms Demand Action, Doctors for America and the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee will hold news conferences and rally at the state Capitol ahead of the session.
"I hope Sen. Fitzgerald will hold the vote," said Debra Gillespie the Founder of Mothers Against Gun Violence. "I ask Wisconsinites, especially the constituents of Sen. Fitzgerald, to urge him to hold this vote. This is some life-saving legislation."
"These are moderate commonsense proposals,"said Darryl Morin of Forward Latino. "You do not play politics with people's lives and that's why we are all here together. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, some grieving, to demand that today this Senate, this Assembly, to take a vote on these measures."
I will not entertain proposals to take away second amendment rights or due process.— Speaker Robin Vos (@SpeakerVos) August 6, 2019
Hopefully, we can find common ground on the real problem by addressing the mental health issues facing Wisconsin.
Evers sent Senator Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Vos a letter Thursday morning blasting them for ignoring the "will of the people" and demanded a vote. He said Wisconsinites deserve to know where their legislators stand on the bills.
Dear Leader Fitzgerald and Speaker Vos:
“As you know, on Oct. 21, 2019, I signed Executive Order #54 calling for the Legislature to meet today, Nov. 7, 2019 at 2 p.m. in a special session on gun safety reform. The Executive Order expressly calls for legislative action on two commonsense proposals that we know could save lives, as they have already done so in the states that have adopted them. The first would require universal background checks for all firearm purchases in the State of Wisconsin, and the second would establish an Extreme Risk Protection Order process to enable family members or law enforcement officers to temporarily remove firearms from an individual a judge finds to be a danger to themselves or others.
“As you also know, these two proposals have received support from 80 percent and 81 percent respectively of Wisconsinites across our state. Yet, despite this overwhelming support, you have declared you will not take a vote on these critical proposals, effectively ignoring the will of 80 percent of the people you and your colleagues represent.
“You are only 132 members of the Legislature. The people of this state expect more of their elected officials and they deserve to know where each of those 132 members stand on these commonsense proposals. I urge you to meet in a special session, take this vote, and let the vote speak for itself. If you refuse the people of this state a vote on these proposals, you are once again denying the will of the people, circumventing the democratic process, and refusing to do your job as elected officials.
“It’s time to stop with the partisan games and political power grabs, and start listening to the people of this state and get to work on address[sic] gun violence in Wisconsin.”
Governor of Wisconsin
"This is not figuring a way to bring people together. This is not trying to say where we can find common ground. You heard today we picked topics that we hope are bipartisan that had universal almost unanimous votes on every vote we are putting on the calendar today," said Vos. "He doesn't want to focus on where the vast majority of the issue really lies and that’s trying to deal with suicide as a mental health issue. I think Gov. Evers playing politics with us is really sad, I certainly think that’s what he’s indicated over and over again, it’s all about the politics.”
Vos added Republicans who support the Second Amendment won't support the bills because "red flag" laws take firearms away from people without any due process.
Vos is hoping several measures on suicide prevention gets passed, and believe they will be more effective than allowing judges to take away guns from people deemed a threat.
One of the Republican proposals up for an Assembly vote Thursday would create a grant program to pay gun shop owners to store guns voluntarily turned over by gun owners.
Another bill up for a vote would create a new suicide prevention program within the state Department of Health Services.