Cars leave Milwaukee's Miller Valley area Tuesday six days after a gunman killed five employees there. Normal operations were set to resume the next day, exactly a week after the shooting. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)
Cars leave Milwaukee's Miller Valley area Tuesday six days after a gunman killed five employees there. Normal operations were set to resume the next day, exactly a week after the shooting. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

As leaders remain quiet, activists call for action

Wednesday marks a week since a gunman killed five Molson Coors employees before shooting himself at Milwaukee’s historic Miller Brewery. Yet the political divide over gun violence and how to prevent it has led to inaction, prompting activists to call for action.

Republican lawmakers refused to hold a special legislative session on gun violence in November and they are no closer to bending to the will of Gov. Tony Evers now.

“We’re disgusted, frankly, at the lack of action, the lack of interest on the part of some of our legislators in moving forward with policies that — based on the research, based on other states — we know would help to reduce gun violence,” said Jeri Bonavia, executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort, or WAVE, which is dedicated to fighting gun violence.

Last week’s shooting came just hours after Evers once again called for Republicans to take up gun safety legislation — and Republicans immediately rejected him.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, have both neglected to formally acknowledge the shooting (apart from a brief statement Fitzgerald gave to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about an hour after the news broke). 

Fitzgerald and Vos’ offices did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bonavia said WAVE will call on its roughly 70,000 members to pressure Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes “to do whatever is necessary.”

“If that means calling another special session … then so be it,” she said. “They should be back in Madison. They should be addressing this issue.”

Democratic leaders — including Evers and Barnes  — quickly fell silent after their initial statements. On the day of the shooting, Evers said it “will have long-lasting consequences for this community and our state,” and he ordered flags flown at half-staff the next day. 

Barnes, a Milwaukee native, tweeted that “we should never relent when ‘leaders’ offer hollow thoughts and prayers but choose inaction.”

Neither has said much since then.

Evers’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The governor told the Associated Press last week that he did not expect Republicans to reconsider their stance on gun laws.

“They’ve dug in their heels and it’s unfortunate,” Evers told the AP.

Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said Democrats may have fallen silent because they fear being accused of “politicizing” the tragedy, or appearing weak by repeatedly complaining to no avail. 

But Republicans, he said, are likely not bringing it up because gerrymandering and loose campaign finance laws ensure they will likely keep their seats even in the face of inaction. Roughly 80 percent of Wisconsinites support universal background checks on gun purchases, according to a Sept. 2019 Marquette Law School Poll.

Yet with lawmakers feeling they are safe in their seat, inaction on topics the public favors become commonplace. 

“It just frustrates the whole idea of representative government when a body like the state Assembly can simply ignore public opinion, no matter how urgent,” Kraig said. “And it will tend to make people resigned to be fatalistic and say, ‘People aren’t going to lose their seats over it, so what’s the point?’”

One day after the shooting, conservative state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly, who is currently running for a 10-year term, held a campaign fundraiser at a Waukesha County gun range. Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on the fundraiser.

Kelly’s campaign did not respond to questions from UpNorthNews, including whether the campaign had considered postponing the fundraiser in light of the mass shooting.

News of the fundraiser immediately brought accusations of tone-deafness. To Kraig’s point, a Kelly campaign spokesman told the Journal Sentinel that the outrage was an “attempt by Jill Karofsky’s allies to exploit a horrible tragedy for their own political gain.” 

Karofsky, Kelly’s opponent in the upcoming election, is a judge in Dane County.

“It does show a degree of callousness,” Bonavia said of Kelly’s fundraiser. “We don’t need that in our elected officials or any type of leader in our state.”