Wisconsin Democrats propose new gun safety measures on campus

Wisconsin Democrats propose new gun safety measures on campus

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By Pat Kreitlow

February 15, 2024

A new bill would allow firearms to be banned campus-wide rather than building by building.

Saying current rules don’t go far enough to assure safety on Wisconsin’s college campuses, two Democratic lawmakers are proposing a new law that would allow colleges and universities to prohibit firearms campuswide.

The authors, Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) and  Rep. Deb Andraca (D-Whitefish Bay), acknowledge the bill has essentially no chance of becoming law because the Legislature is controlled by Republicans who want to make it easier for potential mass shooters to bring guns into public places. But as mass shootings become an American mainstay—illustrated by this week’s tragedy after the Super Bowl victory parade in Kansas City—gun safety supporters say their efforts must continue.

“Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children,” said Roys.  “Even more than car accidents, which is just staggering when you think about it. We put so much effort as parents into making sure that we protect our kids. The last thing we want is for children to be unsafe when they’re at school, and we don’t want them to be unsafe when they’re at college.” 

Current law enables colleges and universities to put up signs on buildings that prohibit entry with weapons, but does not allow institutions to ban weapons on an entire campus. 

“Wisconsin happens to be one of just 12 states that requires that campuses allow guns on campus,” said Andraca. “It’s time for us to go in the other direction—to make sure that we are creating a culture of gun safety, not a culture where you can take firearms anywhere, anytime. And we want to do everything we can do to keep our campuses safe.”

Roys says the current situation is made possible only by Republican legislators who are out of step with mainstream values.

“This is not controversial,” Roys said. “This is supported by the vast majority of people in the state and in this country. It is only the Republican politicians who take their marching orders from the gun manufacturers’ lobby that oppose this.”

The Kansas City mass shooting is far from the only occasion prompting gun safety supporters to stay active. One year ago this week, a gunman killed three people and wounded five at Michigan State University. The suspect had faced a felony gun charge in 2019, but a plea agreement and misdemeanor conviction meant his ban on possessing weapons ended when his probation had been completed. 

This week also marks the anniversary of the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead, and the 2008 shooting at Northern Illinois university, where a gunman killed five and wounded 21. 

Dating back to 1966, there have been 13 mass shootings at colleges and universities that have killed more than 100 people—along with countless other deaths and injuries from individual shootings. High schools have also experienced a similar number of mass shootings in recent decades. 

“There’s never a bad time to be talking about how we can make our schools and colleges safer from gun violence,” Andraca said. “Just about any day of the year, you can find some sort of shooting at a school.”

Along with legislation to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals, there have also been efforts to improve law enforcement responses, threat assessments, and mental health resources. But Roys said the Republican-controlled Legislature is falling far short of what Democrats and Gov. Tony Evers say is needed.

“I’m pretty disappointed because we had a $7 billion surplus and of that, we had about $500 million set forth to put into mental health for children and adolescents,” Roys said. “We know that is a huge issue. Anyone who has or loves a kid in their life knows how hard it has been these last couple of years. And a lot of those investments were stripped away by the Republicans.”

“Gov. Evers had more money going towards mental health,” Andraca said. “We know that there is a massive shortage of mental health providers. So right now in the state, even if somebody is looking for a counselor, is looking for a therapist, it’s very hard to find someone in your network, someone who takes your insurance. So we are in the process of trying to make sure that we’re funding mental health counseling both in K-12 schools and at the university level. We’re not there yet.”

Roys (D-Madison) takes issue with those who claim gun bans are ineffective.

“We don’t throw up our hands and say we’re just not going to have crimes, just because we know that some people will still commit crimes. We want to set forth the laws to say this is the behavior that we expect and this is conduct that is unacceptable in our society,” she said. “We’ve already said that for K-12, you are not allowed to bring a gun on school grounds, and if you violate the law, you will be subject to the penalties. All we’re doing is saying those same penalties will apply if you do so on college campuses.”

Andraca said the bill has exceptions for situations like a competitive sport shooting team or a military group such as the armed forces’ ROTC programs for training commissioned officers.

Author

  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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