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WI Republicans largely non-committal, quiet on bipartisan gun package

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Most of the Wisconsin Republicans running in two of the county's most closely-watched campaigns declined to a take a stance Monday on a bipartisan package of gun laws in the U.S. Senate.

The proposal, floated Sunday, has the support of 10 Republican and 10 Democratic senators. Alexa Henning, spokeswoman for Sen. Ron Johnson, said Johnson wanted to see a bill drafted first before commenting on the proposal.

"There is no bill text yet," Henning wrote in an email. "The senator will review that once it exists."

The bipartisan proposal is the most ambitious congressional effort at gun control in nearly three decades. It includes a more extensive background check process for gun buyers younger than 21. The package also expands restrictions closing the "boyfriend loophole" by denying access to longtime, but unmarried, partners convicted of domestic abuse.

The proposal also includes additional funding for school security and mental health programs, along with federal support for states that enact "red flag" laws, allowing authorities to temporarily take away guns from people reported to police by family as a threat to themselves or others.

Among the state's congressional delegation, a spokeswoman for Rep. Bryan Steil said the Janesville Republican's team was still reviewing the Senate framework.

The offices of Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, Rep. Mike Gallagher, Rep. Glenn Grothman, and Rep. Tom Tiffany did not respond to questions Monday.

In the race for governor, Tim Michels blamed "defund the police" messaging for recent incidents of gun violence when asked whether he supported expanded background checks.

"It's not the guns. It's a cultural problem today," Michels said in an interview. "And a lot of it is a byproduct of the whole 'defund the police' movement, were cops became bad guys."

When pressed on whether or not he supported expanded background checks for buyers younger than 21, Michels, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, said he wasn't ready to take a position on the issue.

"I don't have that answer today," Michels said. "But I will sit down with everybody that has an interest in this, from law enforcement leaders, school leaders, whomever it can, and I will listen to everybody, and we will decide what we want to do."

The only other candidate for governor to respond to 27 News' questions about the gun proposal was Rep. Tim Ramthun (R-Campbellsport), who said he opposed any new gun laws. Instead, he called for removing gun restrictions, such as a current state law requiring gun owners to have a permit in order to carry a concealed firearm in public.

"Whenever a politician calls for red flag laws, that's a red flag to me," Ramthun wrote in an email. "If we give an inch to the leftist and RINO mob(s), they'll take a mile! They'll never stop and more gun restrictions will cascade, leading to mass confiscation."

The campaigns for Rebecca Kleefisch and Kevin Nicholson did not provide answers to whether their candidates support any of the items in the Senate gun package.

Democrats offer modest praise

Democratic candidates in the Senate primary offered varying degrees of support for the gun package. Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes said he believed the bill should go further, but added that belief should not keep Democrats from voting for the version that ultimately reaches the House and Senate floors.

"While it's not a perfect deal that we're looking at, it is progress, and it will save lives," Barnes said. "Is the deal everything we would hope for? No, but it's a significant step forward and, if I were in the Senate right now, I would vote for it."

Treasurer Sarah Godlewski described the ongoing push for tighter gun laws as a "battle" she would eagerly take on.

“The bipartisan gun safety framework is a historic step forward and it should be a no-brainer for Ron Johnson to support this legislation and put Wisconsin families before the gun lobby," she said in a statement. "Our communities and our children deserve nothing less."

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and Milwaukee Bucks executive offered similar responses Sunday on Twitter, signaling their support for the proposal while also bemoaning the ground it doesn't cover.

"This bipartisan deal falls short in many aspects—like not banning assault weapons," Lasry wrote. "But it can and will make our nation safer."

"This is a positive first step from the Senate," Nelson wrote. "But so much more needs to be done to end our gun violence epidemic."

Voters in the August 9 primary will decide which Republican challenges Gov. Tony Evers and which Democratic candidate moves on to face Johnson in November. 

Capitol Bureau Chief