Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker waited just one day after President Obama announced a package of modest gun control reforms before directing his attorney general to explore challenging the new rule — becoming the first governor to threaten legal action over the regulations.
Accusing President Obama of “disregarding the constitutional principles of separation of powers and exceeding his authority as chief executive,” Walker said in a statement that the executive order creates “uncertainty and fear of prosecution for law-abiding citizens who wish to exercise their right to sell firearms lawfully. Forthcoming federal rules could also deprive millions of Americans of their Second Amendment rights without any indication of imminent danger.”
The President’s new orders include clarifying background check rules for online sales and gun shows, increasing the number of federal agents conducting background checks and investigating illegal gun trafficking, investing $500 million in mental health care, and developing new gun safety technology.
As gun violence rises in urban centers like Milwaukee and across the state, many in Wisconsin have been demanding such measures. A 2013 poll conducted by Wisconsin’s Marquette University found that more than 80 percent of residents support background checks on all gun sales, and a narrow majority support banning assault-style weapons.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), who represents Milwaukee in the U.S. Congress, is pushing her colleagues to pass a bill that allows federal agents to investigate gun dealers whose sales have been traced to violent crimes.
She told ThinkProgress Thursday that she sees Scott Walker’s lawsuit threat as a “non-starter.”
“These efforts to take him to court will ultimately fail because he is well within his power,” she said. “We are not depriving anyone of their constitutional right to bear arms. We’re just saying that it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a huge gun shop in the mall or you’re selling them out of the trunk of your car, you have to submit to the laws, including background checks. The president really agonized over this, which you could see from his very emotional response. He had his team make sure he was on good constitutional ground.”
Crime rates are down across the country. But amidst a surge in violent shootings in Moore’s home city of Milwaukee, which killed more than 100 people and injured more than 500 last year alone, local courts are currently overrun with more gun cases than judges can handle. Wisconsinites who have lost family members to shootings in recent years have pleaded, unsuccessfully, with state and federal lawmakers to pass stricter background check measures.
“Every December 30, I attend the candlelight vigil for all the victims of homicide for that year,” Moore said. “In 2015, it was a 10 year high record. A lot of these deaths are really preventable by the absence of a gun. Our police chief has said that these are mostly beefs that escalate into death by gunfire, simple arguments that got out of control. One woman in my community, a teacher, has counted 53 kids that she has known in her classroom who have died from gun violence over the years.”
On a national level, though gun violence is below the highs it reached in the 1990s, guns now kill as many people as cars in the United States, and their sale and use are regulated far less. On the day of President Obama’s announcement alone, dozens of people were killed with guns and many more were injured.
Scott Walker’s challenge to the new rules, however, is well in line with his record on guns. Last year, the governor signed two bills into law weakening the state’s gun control laws — one that scrapped the 48-hour waiting period to buy a gun and another that allowed retired or off-duty law enforcement officials to carry concealed firearms into public schools. In 2011, he signed a billing allowing residents to shoot home intruders. Such moves earned Walker an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, which spent big on ads during his last campaign for governor.
His latest move is also in keeping with his reaction to President Obama’s executive orders, following his lawsuits against the president’s air pollution, health care, and immigration rules. He is also currently suing the federal government for the right to administer drug tests to low income residents who depend on food stamps or unemployment benefits.
Other governors, including Greg Abbott in Texas, have signaled they too will challenge the new gun rules. Yet some, such as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, have gone in the other direction, building on the president’s order with other measures aimed at reducing gun violence. Inslee signed an executive order this week that increases data-sharing among government agencies and creates a new public health campaign on suicide prevention.