Wisconsin Republicans moved within a step Tuesday of eliminating the state's decades-old 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases, pushing a bill that would wipe out the statutes through the state Assembly to Gov. Scott Walker's desk.
Minority Democrats railed against the bill, warning it would enable people caught up in fits of rage or depression to obtain weapons quickly and kill people. Republicans countered that the waiting period inconveniences law-abiding citizens, background checks can now be completed in hours and women could get guns faster to protect themselves and their families from abusers.
"The bill is being made out to be something more than it is," the bill's chief Assembly sponsor, Rep. Romaine Quinn, R-Rice Lake, said on the Assembly floor. "You still have to pass the background check. You can't be a criminal. This allows law-abiding citizens to take a gun home the same day. We can't tell law-abiding citizens they can't do that."
The Assembly ultimately passed the bill on a voice vote. Republicans who control the Senate passed the measure in April. It goes next to Walker. Asked in an email whether the governor, a likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate, would sign the bill, spokeswoman Laurel Patrick responded by saying he supports laws that "make it easier for law-abiding citizens to access firearms and difficult for criminals to obtain illegal firearms."
Ten states and the District of Columbia impose some form of waiting period for buying handguns, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Wisconsin's 48-hour period has been in effect since 1976, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Republican lawmakers have insisted the waiting period was enacted because background checks amounted to digging through file cards by hand. Today the state Department of Justice can perform background checks using modern computer technology. If a buyer has a pristine record the check can be almost instantaneous, they have said.
The bill still left Democrats shaking their heads. Democrats from Milwaukee, which has seen 67 homicides so far this year, said the waiting period is the only piece of state gun laws that work.
"It's just going to result in more violence in our urban communities," Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, a former judge, said.
Rep. Mary Czaja, R-Irma, said the bill will give women a way to obtain a weapon quickly to protect themselves against stalkers and domestic abusers.
"Restraining orders don't help," Czaja said. "We're selling these guns to people who pass a background check and are legal and have every right to own one. "This is about empowering women to help themselves and protect their families and their friends."
The National Rifle Association, the Milwaukee police union and the Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Ranges, Clubs & Educators Inc. have registered in favor of the bill. End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort have registered against it.
The bill was among several gun-related Republican bills lawmakers took up Tuesday.
The Senate passed a bill that would allow off-duty, retired officers to carry guns at schools. The bill's chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said the measure would create another line of defense for students and teachers if a shooter attacks them. Opponents said allowing non-uniformed officers to carry guns at schools could scare students and could allow non-officers to carry concealed weapons without school administrators being able to interfere. They also said officers who are mentally unstable could create deadly situations in schools.
The Senate passed the measure 22-11. The Assembly approved it shortly after on a voice vote with no debate. The bill now goes to Walker. Asked whether the governor would sign it, Patrick said only that Walker would evaluate the proposal.
The Assembly also passed two bills expanding the state's concealed carry law. One measure would allow active-duty soldiers stationed for at least a year in Wisconsin to obtain a state concealed carry license. The other would enable former police officers who worked out-of-state but now reside here to apply for a federal concealed carry license if they obtain annual training through the Wisconsin Department of Justice, sparing them a trip back to their former state to obtain the training.
Both proposals now head to the Senate.