Fact-checking guns ahead of Wisconsin's special session

The Republican-dominated Legislature convenes in Madison on Thursday for a special session on gun control.

Gov. Tony Evers — who called the session — says the state needs new laws to ensure residents’ safety.

Republicans say they won’t even discuss his proposals before gaveling the session to a close.

The governor is seeking action on two fronts:

Red flag laws — These allow judges to temporarily remove firearms from people acting dangerously.

Universal background checks — These measures require background checks for sales by private parties, in addition to gun dealers, which are already required by federal law.’’

Evers can force a session, but he can’t force meaningful debate. Even when the latest polling shows about 80% of Wisconsinites support such proposals.

PolitiFact, in Wisconsin and across the country, has tackled many of the highly-charged claims on gun control. Here are a few of the most recent ones.

From PolitiFact Wisconsin

CLAIM: Says "red flag laws" allow gun seizure without a judge’s involvement: "They take it away first. Then you have to get permission from a judge to do it."

SPEAKER: Robin Vos, Republican Assembly speaker (Oct. 22, 2019)

WHAT WE FOUND: Red flag laws — including the one proposed in Wisconsin — don’t typically work like that. They involve police or family petitioning a judge, who must sign a preliminary order before any guns can be seized.

Indiana does have a law set up as Vos describes, but even there the seizure decision by police is subject to immediate judicial review. And that’s the exception, not the rule. (read more)

RATING: Mostly False


CLAIM: Universal background checks involve asking people "to submit the serial numbers to their guns to a state or federal official," and that violates the Second Amendment.

SPEAKER: Scott Fitzgerald, Republican Senate majority leader (Sept. 22, 2019)

WHAT WE FOUND: The serial numbers that are submitted for background checks don’t end up in government hands for years or decades. And then the federal agency is barred from fashioning them into a database.

What’s more, there is no evidence such a requirement would violate the Second Amendment, since several states have gun registries that have not been struck down by the courts — and a similar provision was upheld by federal courts in a Washington, D.C., case. (read more)

RATING: Mostly False


CLAIM: Says people convicted of felonies or under restraining orders "can buy a firearm without going through a background check."

SPEAKER: Josh Kaul, Democratic attorney general (Aug. 15, 2019)

WHAT WE FOUND: All purchases from firearms dealers are subject to state and federal requirements that include a criminal background check. But Kaul is right that Wisconsin is among the states with no oversight of gun sales between private parties.

That has allowed people in the circumstances he described to buy guns, in some cases with tragic results. (read more)

RATING: True


CLAIM: "Less mass shootings under Trump!"

SPEAKER: Ron Tusler, Republican state representative (Aug. 4, 2019)

WHAT WE FOUND: The chart Tusler based his claim on was both incomplete and outdated — including only half of Trump’s time in office. And it’s absurd to use a raw tally of shootings to compare just over two years under Trump to eight years under Obama.

Using more comprehensive data and a reasonable criterion like shootings per year, mass shootings have risen steadily in recent decades regardless of who is in the White House.

So shootings are up — not down — under Trump. (read more)

RATING: Pants on Fire!


From our PolitiFact partners

CLAIM: "90% of policemen are for" expanding background checks to all gun sales.

SPEAKER: Richard Durbin, U.S. Senator, D-Illinois (Sept. 23, 2019)

WHAT WE FOUND: He was referencing a 2017 survey by Pew Research Center, which asked police at departments that employ 100 or more officers whether they support requiring background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows. Eighty-eight percent responded that they did.

However, it’s important to note that survey left out officers at smaller, more rural jurisdictions who may not share the same views, and we could not find any other recent polls that addressed the question. (read more)

RATING: Mostly True


CLAIM: "Over 90% of the American people think we have to get assault weapons off the street — period."

SPEAKER: Joe Biden, Democratic presidential candidate (Sept. 12, 2019)

WHAT WE FOUND: We looked at five polls following the El Paso and Dayton shootings in early August. Those polls showed overall support for banning assault weapons ranged from 56% to 70%. (read more)

RATING: Mostly False


CLAIM: Red-flag laws have been "shown to reduce the number of suicides by firearms."

SPEAKER: Creigh Deeds, Democratic state senator in Virginia (June 11, 2019)

WHAT WE FOUND: The scant research available, confined to two states, backs Deeds. Duke studies have concluded that one life was saved for every 10 firearms seized in Connecticut and Indiana. A University of Indianapolis study found it statistically likely that the two states would have experienced more gun suicides if they didn’t have the law.

But Deeds’ claim could use some clarification. The number and rate of suicides -- by gun or other means -- have increased in both states and across the nation this century. What the studies conclude is that it would have been even worse in Connecticut and Indiana without the law.

Another issue: While Connecticut had fewer gun suicides because of the law, the University of Indianapolis suggests the law caused a more than corresponding increase in suicides by other methods. (read more)

RATING: Mostly True